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Archbishop Follo: To learn the Logic of Love

With the wish to understand that ‘man does not enter into truth’ (Saint Augustin).

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VII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C – February 24, 2019
Roman Rite:
1 Sam 26.2.7-9.12-13.22-23; 1Cor 15,45-49; Lk 6, 27-38
Ambrosian Rite
Dn 9.15-19; Ps 106; 1Tim 1,12-17; Mk 2: 13-17
Penultimate Sunday after the Epiphany called “of the divine clemency”
1) The happiness of loving the enemy.
The demands of love, the new commandment that Jesus brought into the world, “love one another as I have loved you …” (Jn 19:12), are the plot of the passage from today’s Gospel that is the crowning of the beatitudes on which we meditated last Sunday. Today Christ tells us: “To you, who hear, I say: love …”. The whole theme of the speech of the Redeemer is articulated on the underlying theme of love. It is a speech that manifests the logic of Christ that is not always easy to make ours in the concrete situations of life.
“Love,” Jesus says, but the love of which he speaks does not have the boundaries of the family, nor of the circle of friends or of pleasant people. The love of which the Lord speaks has the flavor of a challenge: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you”, a love, which is not only a sentiment, but is realized in the concreteness of gestures: “Do good to those who hate you …. pray for those who mistreat you … to those who hit you on the cheek, offer the other as well, …give to anyone who asks …. and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back “. Therefore, a love without limits but not an absurdity, because this way of loving is the way of loving of God, made visible in his Son Jesus. In fact, if we contemplate the passion of Christ, we see how He sees this passion in which Christ puts into practice the words he is telling us today: words of offer, of love and forgiveness for the world that is condemning him to death. Like Jesus we pray for the executioners, we offer our cheek, we open the door of forgiveness as He opened the door of paradise to a thief.
Jesus is always the one who gives and gives himself. The Christian, guided by the golden rule “Do to others as you would have them do to you”, is called to be like him.
Let’s keep in mind that the love for the enemy is the vertex of the love for the neighbor. In fact, the love for the enemy highlights – as it does not happen in any other form of love – the two profound characteristics of every authentic evangelical love. First of all, the tension towards universality: in the love for the enemy the figure of the “neighbor” expands to the point of enclosing even the “farthest”; and, who is farther than our enemy? And the note of gratuity, which is the soul of all true love.
We must keep in mind that the figure of the enemy of which Luke speaks, is, we can say, a daily and a normal one: it is not about a persecutor, but simply about the one who speaks ill of us, hates and mistreats us. The concrete examples are numerous and go beyond the narrow scope of the enemy: it speaks not only of those who hate, strike, steal but also of those who request a loan without having the opportunity to give it back. Luke is particularly interested in emphasizing the gratuitousness of love.
The motivations that justify love for the enemy are two: to distinguish oneself from sinners and to be sons of the Most High. It is about behaving like one’s own God, “benevolent towards the ungrateful and the bad”. The adjective “benevolent” in Greek “χρηστός (chrestòs)” says the careful, welcoming, and mild love that does not weigh what it gives. “Ungrateful” in Greek χαρίστos (acharìstos) emphasizes once more the absence of any claim of reciprocity. We do not love the one who is far away in order to make him come near. We love him because we want to prolong the benevolence of God on him. Even if it seems paradoxical to us, let’s educate us in the ability of loving the other without his merit, recalling to the mind that God has loved us from eternity, even before we were born. God has loved us with eternal love and continues to love us with a faithful love not for our merit, but for his most pure and disinterested love. He did not need us, but he created us because of his pure love, in order to make us as happy as He is.
2) Learning the logic of God.
The logic of Christ totally disrupts our logic. The command of love for the enemies and of forgiveness is the most scandalous, incomprehensible and illogical one for the disciples of Jesus of two thousand years ago as for us today. We are asked to act not according to our instinct and our humanity, but according to God and like God. “Like God” means: to be merciful. The one who takes revenge wants a victory for himself. The one who forgives gives the possibility to the other to win, that is, to open oneself to the life of God.
The logic of God is always “different” from ours, as God himself reveals through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, your ways are not my ways” (Is 55). For this reason, following the Lord always requires a profound conversion, a change in the way of thinking and living, it requires opening the heart to listening in order to let ourselves be illuminated and transformed inwardly. A key point in which God and man differ is pride: in God, there is no pride because He is total fullness and He is all about loving and giving life; in us, pride is intimately rooted and requires constant vigilance and purification. We, who are small, aspire to appear great, to be the first, while God does not fear to lower himself and to be the last. The Virgin Mary is perfectly “attuned” to God: let’s invoke her with trust and imitate her with generosity, following Jesus faithfully with her on the path of love and humility.
The logic of God is not inhuman, rather it makes our humanity flourish. Therefore, we must not be afraid to assume the logic of God, even if it is the logic of the Cross, which is not, first of all, that of pain and death, but that of love and of the gift of self that brings life “(Pope Francis).
The logic of God is different from ours. His omnipotence is also different: it is not expressed as an automatic or arbitrary force, but is marked by a loving and paternal freedom. In reality, God, creating free creatures and giving freedom, has renounced to a part of his power, leaving the power of our freedom. If we assume the logic of God, we will use our power not with violence nor with destruction, but with love, in mercy, and in forgiveness. This way of acting is only apparently weak, because in reality “only the one who is really powerful can bear evil and show compassion; only the one who is truly powerful can fully exercise the power of love. And God, to whom all things belong because everything has been done by Him, reveals his strength by loving everything and everyone, in a patient waiting for the conversion of us men, whom He wishes to have as children “(Benedict XV).
“The logic of God is sharing and mercy. It does not reason according to prizes or punishments, but on the basis of welcoming all those who request mercy and forgiveness so that all return to being brothers” (Pope Francis).
If we learn the logic of God, we also understand virginity, which is an imitation of Christ, Logos of God. It is the highest form of identification with the humanity of the Redeemer. Jesus lived a complete loving dependence from the Father. The Son and the Father are one. The Son does what the Father tells him, and what pleases the Father (see Jn 8: 28-29, 10, 30, 14, 31). Virginity is above all this: living entirely for God, participating in his will, devoting all the energies to his kingdom in the world.
An example of a life lived in the logic of virginity is that of the consecrated virgins. In a time like ours, so full of eroticism and sexual permissiveness, it might be incomprehensible to reflect on consecrated virginity. Today, in regard to virginity perhaps, more than contestation, there is too much confusion, accompanied by little faith and lack of courage to propose the beauty and fruitfulness of this choice of Christian life. Consecrated virginity is a gift, a charism, an event of grace for those who, in view of the Kingdom, establish a personal and exclusive relationship with Christ, radically deciding not to possess anything, not even their own body. Consecrated virginity, lived in the local Church, feeds on falling in love. There is no other logical or rational explanation.
The only joy of the virgin is and will be Christ. Therefore, the consecrated virgins are called to live this vocation by witnessing that “Christian virginity thus exists in the world as a clear sign of the future Kingdom because its presence exposes the relativity of material goods and the transitory nature of the world itself. In this sense, like the celibacy of the prophet Jeremiah, it foretells the imminent end. But at the same time, because of the spousal bond with Christ, it also proclaims the beginning of the life of the world to come, the new world according to the Spirit. This sign, as occurs in the biblical vision, is not a simply conventional reference or the pale image of a distant reality, but the reality itself in its nascent expression. In the sign is contained, even if still hidden, the future reality.
Consecrated virginity is therefore placed in a spousal framework, which is not theogamic (meaning: of marriage with the divinity), but theologal, that is, baptismal, because it concerns the spousal love of Christ for the Church (cf. Eph 5:25-26). It concerns a supernatural salvific reality, not just a human one, that cannot be explained with the logic of reason but with faith, because, as the scriptures call to mind, Your husband is your creator (Is 54:5). This is one of the great works of the new order inaugurated with Christ’s Passover and the outpouring of the Spirit, an experience difficult for carnal humanity to understand and comprehensible only by those who let themselves be taught by the Spirit of God (1 Cor 2, 12-13).” (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Instruction on the Ordo Virginum, Ecclesiae Sponsae Imago, No. 17).
Patristic reading
Golden Chain
on Lk 6: 27 -31

THEOPHYL; Having spoken above of what they might suffer from their enemies, He now points out how they ought to conduct themselves towards their enemies’ saying, But I say to you who hear.
AMBROSE; Having proceeded in the enumeration of many heavenly actions, He not unwisely comes to this place last, that He might teach the people confirmed by the divine miracles to march onward in the footsteps of virtue beyond the path of the law. Lastly, among the three greatest, (hope, faith, and charity,) the greatest is charity, which is commanded in these words, Love your enemies.
BASIL; It is indeed the part of an enemy to injure and be treacherous. Every one then who does harm in any way to any one is called his enemy.
CYRIL; But this way of life was well adapted to the holy teachers who were about to preach throughout the earth the word of salvation, and if it had been their will to take vengeance upon their persecutors, had failed to call them to the knowledge of salvation.
CHRYS. But He says not, Do not hate, but love; nor did He merely command to love, but also to do good, as it follows, Do good to them which hate you.
BASIL; But because mans consists of body and soul, to the soul indeed we shall do this good, by reproving and admonishing such men, and leading them by the hand to conversion; but to the body, by profiting them in the necessaries of life.
It follows, Bless them that curse you.
CHRYS For they who pierce their own souls deserve tears and weeping, not curses. For nothing is more hateful than a cursing heart, or more foul than a tongue which utters curses. O man, spit not forth the poison of asps, nor be turned into a beast. Your mouth was given you not to bite with, but to heal the wounds of others. But he commands us to count our enemies in the ram: of our friends, not only in a general way, but as our particular friends for whom we are accustomed to pray; as it follows, Pray for them which persecute you. But many on the contrary falling down, and striking their faces upon the ground, and stretching forth their hands, pray God not for their sins, but against their enemies, which is nothing else but piercing their own selves. When you pray to Him that He would hear you cursing your enemies, who has forbidden you to pray against your enemies, how is it possible for you to be heard, since you art calling Him to hear you by striking an enemy in the king’s presence, not with the hand indeed, but with your words. What are you doing, O man? you stand to obtain pardon of your sins, and you fill your mouth with bitterness. It is a time of forgiveness, prayer, and mourning, not of rage.
THEOPHYL; But the question is fairly raised, how it is that in the prophets are to be found many curses against their enemies. Upon which we must observe, that the prophets in the imprecations they uttered foretold the future, and that not with the feelings of one who wishes, but in the spirit of one who foresees.
CYRIL; Now the old law commanded us not to injure one another; or if we are first injured, not to extend our wrath beyond the measure of the injurer, but the fulfilling of the law is in Christ and in His commands. Hence it follows, And to him that smite you on the one cheek, offer also the other.
CHRYS. For physicians also, when they are attacked by madmen, have then most compassion on them, and exert themselves to restore them. Have you also a like consideration towards your persecutors; for it is they who are under the greatest infirmity. And let us not cease until they have exhausted all their bitterness, they will then overpower you with thanks, and God Himself will give you a crown, because you have delivered your brother from the worst disease.
BASIL; But we almost all of us offend against this command, and especially in the powerful and rulers, not only if they have suffered insult, but if respect is not paid them, accounting all those their enemies who treat them with less consideration than they think they deserve. But it is a great dishonor in a prince to be ready to take revenge. For how shall he teach another, to return to no man evil for evil, if he is eager to retaliate on him who ho injures him.
CYRIL; But the Lord would moreover have us to be despisers of property. As it follows, And him that takes away your cloak, forbid not to take your coat also. For this is the soul’s virtue, which is altogether alien from feeling the pleasure of wealth. For it becomes him who is merciful even to forget his misfortunes, that we may confer the same benefits upon our persecutors, whereby we assist our dear friends.
CHRYS Now He said not, Bear humbly the rule of your persecutor, but, Go on wisely, and prepare yourself to suffer what he desires you to do; overcoming his insolence by your great prudence, that he may depart with shame at your excellent endurance.
But some one will say, How can this be? When you have seen God made man, and suffering so many things for you, do you still ask and doubt how it is possible to pardon the iniquities of your fellow servants? Who has suffered what your God has, when He was bound, scourged, enduring to be spat upon, suffering death? Here it follows, But to every one who seeks, give.
AUG. He says not, To him that seeks give all things, but give what you justly and honestly can, that is, what as far as man can know or believe, neither hurts you, nor another: and if you have justly refused any one, the justice must be declared to him, (so as not to send him away empty,) sometimes you will confer even a greater boon when you have corrected him who seeks what he ought not.
CHRYS. Herein however we do not lightly err, when not only we give not to those who ho seek, but also blame them? Why (you say) does he not work, why is the idle man fed? Tell me, cost you then possess by labor? but still, if you work, do you work for this, that you should blame another? For a single loaf and coat cost you call a man covetous? You give nothing, make then no reproaches. Why do you neither take pity yourself, and dissuades those who would? If we spend upon all indifferently, we shall always have compassion: for because Abraham entertains all, he also entertains angels. For if a man is a homicide and a robber, does he not, think you, deserve to have bread? Let us not then be severe censors of others, lest we too be strictly judged.
It follows, And of him that takes away your goods ask them not again.
CHRYS. Everything we have we receive from God. But when we speak of “mine and shine,” they are only bare words. For if you assert a house to be yours, you have uttered an expression which wants the substance of reality. For both the air, the soil, and the moisture, are the Creator’s. You again are he who has built the house; but although the use is shine, it is doubtful, not only because of death, but also on account of the issues of things. Your soul is not your own possession, and will be reckoned to you in like manner as all your goods. God wishes those things to be yours which are entrusted to you for your brethren, and they will be shine if you have dispensed them for others. But if you have spent richly upon yourself what things are yours, they are now become another’s. But through a wicked desire of wealth men strive together in a state contrary to Christ’s words, And of him that takes away your goods, ask them not again.
AUG. He says this of garments, houses, farms, beasts of burdens, and generally of all property. But a Christian ought not to possess a slave as he does a horse or money. If you more honorably govern a slave than by him who desires to take him from you, I know not whether any one would dare to say, that he ought to be despised, as a garment.
CHRYS. Now we have a natural law implanted in us, by which we distinguish between what is virtue, and what is vice. Hence it follows, And as you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. He does not say, Whatever you would not that men should do to you, do not you. For since there are two ways which lead to virtue, namely abstaining from evil, and doing good, he names one, signifying by it the other also. And if indeed He had said, That you may be men, love the beasts, the command would be a difficult one. But if they are commanded to love men, which is a natural admonition, wherein lies the difficulty, since even the wolves and lions observe it, whom a natural relation compels to love one another. It is manifest then that Christ has ordained nothing surpassing our nature, but what He had long before implanted in our conscience, so that your own will is the law to you. And if you will have good done to you, you must do good to others; if you will that another should show mercy to you, you must show mercy to your neighbor.

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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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