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Archbishop Follo: The Joy of an Encounter

With the wish to understand that to love is a virtue, to be loved by God is happiness.

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Third Sunday of Advent Time – Roman Rite – Year C – December 16, 2018
Zep 3:14-18a; Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18
Joy is the presence of the Loved One.
Fifth Sunday of Advent – Ambrosian Rite
Is 30: 18-26b; Ps 145; II Cor 4:1-6; John 3: 23-32a
The Precursor announces the joy of a Presence

  • Joy is not simply an emotion, it is an experience.

       The readings in today’s Roman and Ambrosian liturgy capture our attention on John the Baptist also named the Precursor. This epithet indicates that John was running not only forward but ahead of Jesus to prepare the way with the charity of a life and a preaching to conversion.
The Precursor didn’t earn this “epithet” because he was physically running but because he was walking with steps of love. We could say that he was an ambassador of Love. He was teaching that we must walk toward the Messiah with the steps of a purified and converted love.
To convert is to say “yes’ to God (Prophet Zephaniah in the first reading) and to our neighbor (today’s Gospel). In fact, to the crowd that was asking “What should we do? “ John answered “”Whoever has two cloaks should share with those who have none. And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Zephaniah teaches us that love renews the heart and fear makes it old. The Gospel teaches that love is sharing and source of life. Even the Psalm invites us to joy: “Cry out with joy and gladness: for among you is the great and Holy One of Israel.” In the second reading, the apostle Paul in the letter to the Philippians insists on joy: “I shall say it again: rejoice!” explaining that “The Lord is near.” Joy implies the disappearance of anxiety “Have no anxiety at all” and if by any chance you are in difficulty, “by prayer and petition…make your requests known to God.”
The source of joy is God who guides our steps to take us where He is waiting. How can we walk toward the big light of Christ shown to us by the small light of John? (John’s torch indicates the Sun which is Jesus and in doing so our eyes don’t get burned) giving back our heart to Jesus, the Light that gives us strength and hope even among difficulties.
       It is important to abandon ourselves in the arms of God that guides the journey. God never abandons us. He is the Emmanuel, God always with us.
Let’s lift up our eyes to Him. Let’s admire Him in the crib at Bethlehem and on the Cross in Jerusalem where he gave his life for us because He loves us. The contemplation of such a love will bring everlasting hope and joy in our hearts.
How can we be sad if we have encountered Christ who has given his life for every one of us? Even if we are sad, it doesn’t matter.  Sadness is a sign that we miss God even if we don’t know it. A sadness that becomes a humble request is the price of the joy of the answer. It is enough that our heart implores ’Come, Jesus, come”. He is the son of God who doesn’t gratify evil ( Ps 5,5). Then, we will experience God who” bless the just one and surrounds him with favor like a shield.” We will have a serene faith that has its foundation on the mercy – fidelity (in Hebrew hesed) of God and on the justice- salvation (in Hebrew sedaqah).
        These two words are used in the Bible to celebrate the covenant that forever unites the Master to His people in joy. The joy of Christ consists in the fact that He condescends to rejoice in us. Our perfect joy is the communion with Him. (Saint Augustine, Speech # 2). It is the new and eternal Covenant.

  • Joy is not only being loved but also to live donating oneself.

Charity comes from a heart enlarged by joy. Charity is to share joy and to transmit it. To give a banquet so that everybody rejoices with him (rejoice with me) is the way the good Shepherd uses to share his joy for having found the lost sheep. This is the way to celebrate that the merciful Father uses when the prodigal son returns home.
In the episodes of the Good Shepherd and of the merciful Father we can see that love causes joy and that joy is a kind of love. To love means to care and to care means to give true good to the loved one up to the point of donating oneself to and for him, as Jesus did in Bethlehem and on the Calvary. In the same way did Mary who, full of grace and of joy (my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior), carried to Elizabeth not a material help but Christ the incarnated joy. It was such a joy that even John, in the womb of his old mother, exulted recognizing the presence of Jesus in the womb of the young mother.
If John could feel the presence of Christ despite the obscurity of the womb, could we not feel it despite the obscurity of our difficulties, and be happy? We can. It would be enough to approach Christ with the curiosity of the shepherds and the pray of the Magi and to kneel in front of Him. Let’s offer to Christ our amazement and our humble gift (for the One who created the world, gold is a small thing). He will once more give himself to us entirely and tenderly.
      “By virtue of their dedication lived in fullness and in joy, consecrated women are called in a very special way to be signs of God’s tender love toward the human race and to be special witnesses to the mystery of the Church, Virgin, Bride and Mother.” ( VITA CONSECRATA – Pope John Paul II- Apostolic Letter given on March 25, 1996  #57)
        The consecrated virgins receive this gift during the Rite of consecration and they are called to live it in a mature and mindful way. Because of this gift” the virgin becomes a consecrate entity, sign of the love that the Church carries for Christ, eschatological image of the heavenly bride and of future life” (Introduction to the Rite, 1)
Receive the ring that marks you as a bride of Christ. Keep unstained your fidelity to your Bridegroom,
that you may one day be admitted to the wedding feast of everlasting joy. Make your lives deserve our praise,
without seeking to be praised.” (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins # 40)
     The customary way is to remind ourselves that the born Christ is the history of salvation. For it we must give thanks (= Eucharist) “May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you, may they love you and serve you.”  (Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins # 38)
All of us, unmarried or married, lay people or religious people, are called to put into practice the words of Jesus ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Saint Paul Acts 20, 35).These are words that Mother Theresa explained in this way: “Joy is a net of love to capture the souls. God loves the one who gives with joy. The one who gives with joy gives more.” Pope Paul VI wrote “In God, all is joy because all is a gift” (Gaudete in Domino May 9, 1975)
Let’s prepare ourselves with joy to welcome Christ who brings back in the world the Gift of God, infinite love, faithful merciful and just.
To better prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ I recommend this prayer by Saint Thomas More
Give me a good digestion
And something to digest.
Give me health
with the good humor necessary to maintain it.
Give me Lord a holy soul
that makes treasure
 of what is good and pure
not to be frightened
 at the sight of evil
but  to see in your presence
 the way to put things right.
Give me a soul that doesn’t know
boredom, grunts, sighs and moans
Do not allow me to grieve excessively
For that too intrusive thing
 which is called “I”.
give me the sense of ridiculous
and allow me the grace to understand jokes
so that in life I may experience joy
and share it with others. Amen”
 Saint Thomas More, Martyr (February 7, 1477 – July 6, 1535)
A model husband and father, a politician and a Christian humanist he has invented the word” utopia” (ou= un
and  topos= place) to indicate an imaginary isle where an ideal society lives. (“Utopia” 1516). We remember him for his refusal to recognize King Edward VIII as the supreme chief of the Church of England. For this reason, he was put in jail accused of treason and put to death. He preferred to be condemned rather than betray his conscience.
What defines more than everything else the personality of this great Statesman is the harmony between natural and supernatural. He lived his public life with simplicity and good humor even when close to death. With his passion for truth, he demonstrated, even in accepting the death sentence, that it is not possible to separate man from God neither politics from morality.
The testimony of Saint Thomas More shows with clarity a fundamental truth of the ethics policy: the defense of the freedom of the church from interference by the State is the same defense of the freedom of a person from the political power.
On October 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II has proclaimed Thomas More Saint Patron of Statesmen and Politicians
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
on Lk 3:10 – 14
 GREG. In the preceding words of John, it is plain that the hearts of his hearers were troubled, and sought for advice from him. As it is added, And they asked him, saying, &c.
ORIGEN; Three classes of men are introduced as inquiring of John concerning their salvation, one which the Scripture calls the multitude, another to which it gives the name of Publicans, and a third which is noticed by the appellation of soldiers.
THEOPHYL. Now to the Publicans and soldiers, he gives a commandment to abstain from evil, but the multitudes, as not living in an evil condition, he commands to perform some good work, as it follows, He that has two coats, let him give one.
GREG. Because a coat is more necessary for our use than a cloak, it belongs to the bringing forth of fruits worthy of repentance, that we should divide with our neighbors not only our superfluities but those which are absolutely necessary to us, as our coat, or the meat with which we support our bodies; and hence it follows, And he who has meat, let him do likewise.
BASIL; But we are hereby taught, that everything we have over and above what is necessary to our daily support, we are bound to give to him who has nothing for God’s sake, who has given us liberally whatever we possess.
GREG. For because it was written in the law, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, he is proved to love his neighbor less than himself, who does not share with him in his distress, those things which are even necessary to himself. Therefore that precept is given of dividing with one’s neighbor the two coats, since if one is divided no one is clothed. But we must remark in this, of how much value are works of mercy, since of the works worthy of repentance these are enjoined before all others.
AMBROSE; For other commands of duty have reference only to individuals, mercy has a common application. It is, therefore, a common commandment to all, to contribute to him that has not. Mercy is the fullness of virtues, yet in mercy itself, a proportion is observed to meet the capacities of man’s condition, in that each individual is not to deprive himself of all, but what he has to share it with the poor.
ORIGEN; But this place admits of a deeper meaning, for as we ought not to serve two masters, so neither to have two coats, lest one should be the clothing of the old man, the other of the new, but we ought to cast off the old man, and give to him who is naked. For one man has one coat, another has none at all, the strength therefore of the two is exactly contrary, and as it has been written that we should cast all our crimes to the bottom of the sea, so ought we to throw from us our vices and errors, and lay them upon him who has been the cause of them.
THEOPHYL. But someone has observed that the two coats are the spirit and letter of Scripture, but John advises him that has these two to instruct the ignorant, and give him at least the letter.
THEOPHYL; What great virtue there was in the discourse of the Baptist is manifested by this, that the Publicans, nay even the soldiers, he compelled to seek counsel of him concerning their salvation, as it follows, But the publicans came.
CHRYS. Great is the force of virtue that makes the rich seek the way of salvation from the poor, from him that has nothing.
THEOPHYL; He commands them therefore that they exact no more than what was presented to them, as it follows, And he said to them, Do no more than what is appointed to you. But they are called publicans who collect the public taxes, or who are the farmers of the public revenue or public property? Those also who pursue the gain of this world by traffic are denoted by the same titles, all of whom, each in his own sphere, he equally forbids to practice deceit, that so by first keeping themselves from desiring other men’s goods, they might at length come to share their own with their neighbors.
It follows, But the soldiers also asked him. In the justest manner, he advises them not to seek gain by falsely accusing those whom they ought to benefit by their protection. Hence it follows, And he says to them, Strike no one, (i.e. violently,) nor accuse any falsely, (i.e. by unjustly using arms,) and be content with your wages.
AMBROSE; Teaching thereby that wages were affixed to military duty, lest men seeking for gain should go about as robbers
GREG. NAZ. For by wages he refers to the imperial pay and the rewards assigned to distinguished actions.
AUG. For he knew that soldiers, when they use their arms, are not homicides, but the ministers of the law; not the avengers of their own injuries, but the defenders of the public safety. Otherwise, he might have answered, “Put away your arms, abandon warfare, strike no one, wound no one, destroy no one.” For what is it that is blamed in war? Is it that men die, who sometime or other must die, that the conquerors might rule in peace? To blame this is the part of timid, not religious men. The desire of injury, the cruelty of revenge, a savage and pitiless disposition, the fierceness of rebellion, the lust of power, and such like things are the evils which are justly blamed in wars, which generally for the sake of thereby bringing punishment upon the violence of those who resist, are undertaken and carried on by good men either by command of God or some lawful authority, when they find themselves in that order of things in which their very condition justly obliges them either to command such a thing themselves, or to obey when others command it.
CHRYS. But John’s desire when he spoke to the Publicans and soldiers, was to bring them over to a higher wisdom, for which as they were not fitted, he reveals to them commoner truths, lest if he put forward the higher they should pay no attention thereto, and be deprived of the others also.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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