Archbishop Follo: The Promise and its Fulfillment: the Final Covenant

With the invitation to recall that to speak with God it is necessary to listen to Him, and the liturgy of the Church is «the school» of this listening of the Lord who speaks to us.

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Third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- January 27, 2019
Roman Rite
Neh 8:2-4a, 5-6,8-10; Ps 19:8,9,10,15; 1 Cor 12:12-30; Lk1:1-4, 4;14-21
Ambrosian Rite
Sir 44:25-45,1c.2-5; Ps111: Eph 5:33-6,4; Mt 2:19-23
Feast of the Holy Family

  • The fulfilled Promise

In the Old Testament God had spoken promising and asking to abide by the Law which is “light to the eyes and joy of heart” (Ps 18 B,4).
It is now clear why the prophet Nehemiah, who with Ezra had taken upon himself the duty of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls and to repopulate the abandoned town, reunites the Jewish community back from the exile in Babylonia and celebrates a liturgy to teach the Law and to have the people commit to practicing it.
In the book of Nehemiah, we learn that the ones listening to the reading of the Law cry because they understand that their life is questioned and moved to conversion. Nehemiah, the main organizer of the return from the exile and of the renewed social and religious life, encourages the bystanders, “Today is holy to our LORD. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the LORD must be your strength!” These words came from a man that, despite having rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem (444 B.Sc.), knew for sure that the best defense is the fidelity to the Law given by God to his people. The prophet invites everyone to be joyful because he knows that, despite all our deficiencies, God is loyal, and the day when a new life converted to the Law begins must be a day of celebration, joy and sharing in the same way as a meal is shared.
From then on, the people of Israel started reading an excerpt from the Bible every Saturday in the Synagogue. Even in the Gospel the Word is at the center of the assembly of the believers. The Word is solemnly proclaimed, listened with attention, understood and welcomed as a message of hope, joy, and liberation.
Jesus complies with this ritual and on Saturday enters the Synagogue at Nazareth.
However, it is only with Jesus that the Scripture becomes present and fully real: in Him, the promise is realized. Jesus’ comment is short but with it, He reveals, presents and makes himself known as the Messiah. On Christ’s lips the words of Isaiah, century old and written on an ancient scroll, become transparent, actual, fresh, real and resplendent of a complete revelation. These words become new, good news not only promised but also revealed.
The people of Nazareth (and not only they) are not prepared nor attentive to the passage of God. In fact, in Nazareth, the biggest havoc happens.  His people didn’t welcome Him and didn’t open themselves to faith. They believed that He was crazy and wanted to throw him from the rock.
Jesus was very clear “Today this Scripture that you have heard before, is fulfilled” Which was the Scripture that they had heard? It was the prophetic excerpt by Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me because the LORD has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, release to the prisoners, and to announce a year of favor from the LORD”. Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed, the consecrated by God because He received “the anointment of the joy” divine and nuptial (Ps 44, 8). To this epithet found in the Bible, I dare to add that Jesus is the “indelible Word” (Thomas Federici (1927 -2002) Italian scholar of the Bible, the Fathers of the Church and Linguist), the Heart that speaks to the heart, and the Love that cures human love. Jesus carries and is the good news that God’s love for all is without limits.
How can we avoid making the same big mistake made by Jesus’ countrymen who, upon having looked at Him when he started reading in the Synagogue, after a short time of wonder decided to get rid of him?  Directing and converting not only our eyes but also our heart and our entire life to Jesus. Then over us “will shine the light of God’s face!” (Ps 4,7).
Following the example of the faithful in the synagogue at Nazareth, let look to Jesus while waiting for His teachings and holding our breath waiting for Him to explain and to complete what is being read. Before He spoke, their hearts were anxious; afterward, they were astonished in hearing that the promise had been fulfilled. “Happy is the House of which the Scripture testifies that its eyes were fixed upon Him “(Origen Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 32: 2-6)
Unfortunately, later they reacted negatively. In order to avoid falling in this rejection we must ask for pure eyes of faith to see that we are in the fullness of time when our Savior cures the blind (even the ones that don’t see celestial things because they are too focused on the earthy ones, if they ask for it) and the deaf (even the ones that don’t hear the Word of God because their ears are blocked by the noises of the earth, if they beg for it). He donates the Kingdom to the poor (even to the ones who are deep in the poverty of selfishness, if they stretch their hands asking to be lifted up) and gives freedom to the prisoners (even to the ones who are chained to sin, if they ask to be freed).
The time is fulfilled and man is recreated by the Redeemer through mercy if the repentant asks for the liberation donated by the new covenant. The Gospel is the happy “news” that all is true and possibly forever. “The gift exceeds in abundance the request” (Saint Ambrose Commentary on Luke 10, 121). This realization is even bigger than the promise.

  • The covenant of mercy to Theophilus

              Christ’ new covenant is a covenant of mercy that is an embrace of peace like the one given by the Father to the prodigal son. It is a new covenant written not on stone, but in the heart, a covenant of forgiveness. However, a received forgiveness implies the duty to forgive. Because we are brought to fulfillment by the Love that forgiving us redeems us, we must carry this merciful love to others and to the entire world. We must be new evangelizers carrying God’s forgiveness into the world. If on the Cross Christ said “Father, forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing,” why should we not be able to make ours the words of the saint who praying for his enemies, said “Master, to what purpose I have pardoned them if You will not let them enter into Heaven?” We can do it with God’s grace. We can if we become the “Theophilus” for whom Saint Luke wrote his gospel.
Theophilus (from the Greek Theos= God and philos=love) means “the one who loves God” as well as “the one who is loved by God.” In both cases -we love God or we wish to be loved by God- we must read the Gospel of Luke as if it had been written and given to us as a gift.
It is a great gift made not only of words: The Gospel is not one of the many visions of the world or a theory over the world and over mankind. The Gospel is the encounter with the incarnated Jesus, who becomes an event in our life and makes of our life an event of His presence for the other men.
The best way to reciprocate a gift is to donate: to donate ourselves to Christ, to donate ourselves to His mission in the world, and to donate ourselves to others through the daily commitment of our tasks at home and at work. Let’s take as an example the Sacred Family of Nazareth whose feast is celebrated in today’s Ambrosian liturgy.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as community of life under God’s will of love” (H.U. von Balthasar), lived the dimension of gift and love without limits.  Their example asks us to be witnesses of God’s gift that gives light, meaning, beauty and joy to the life of the entire world.
The consecrated Virgins are in particular called to be witnesses of this gift as we read in the prayer of consecration written in the IV century. The Bishop who presides the rite of the Ordo Virginum, calling up to God, says “While the value and honor of a marriage remain intact, which are sanctified at the beginning of your blessing, according to your providential design, the virgins must come into an existence in which, even though they renounce being married, they aspire to possess in private the reality of the mystery.  In this way, you call them to realize, outside of matrimony, the married life with Christ, of which the nuptials are an image and a sign.” He concludes with “In you, oh Lord, they have everything because they have chosen You above all else.”
At a time when virginity is not valued because it is considered as lacking something instead of been understood for the value of the complete gift of oneself that it represents, the Consecrated Virgins witness that it is possible to live this great, happy and useful gift. “You, consecrated Virgins are already like angels on earth” (Saint Ambrose De Virginitate). It is not because they keep themselves away from real life, but because they are witnesses today of the today of Christ, namely of the fact that the destiny of men comes into play in reference to Christ. They show that this gift brings so much joy in one’s life that it becomes forever.

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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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