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Archbishop Follo:  A New Command for a New Love

With the wish to understand more and more that the new commandment of Christ is to love us reciprocally: to give us to the other totally and to receive the other as a gift.

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Fifth Sunday of Easter – Year C – May 19th, 2019
Roman Rite
Acts 14:21b-27, Ps 145 ;Rev 21: 1-5a; Jn 13:31-33a, 34-35
Ambrosian Rite
Acts 4,32-37; Ps 132; 1Cor 12,31-13,8a; Jn 13,31b-35

  • A new commandment. Why?

 Why a commandment that was known since the Old Testament (see Lv 19:18) is called «new»? In this regard the distinction between old and ancient is useful. In this case, «new» is not the opposite of «ancient» but of «old». The evangelist John in another passage writes: «Dear friends, I do not write you a new commandment, but an ancient commandment … And yet it is a new commandment I write to you» (1 Jn 2: 7-8). In short, is it a new commandment or an ancient commandment? Both things. It is ancient according to the letter because it had been given a long time before; it is new according to the Spirit because only with Christ we have been given the strength to put it into practice. In today’s Gospel new is not opposed to ancient, but to old. To “love one’s neighbor as oneself» had become an «old», weak and worn out commandment in virtue of the fact that it had been transgressed because the Law imposed the obligation to love but did not give the strength to do so.
The command to love as Christ has loved us is not a new law because we are asked for something more difficult than the previous ones. The law of love that the Redeemer gives us is new because it is the indication to live our life lived as a gift and our existence as a sharing full of loving trust and of total abandonment to the tender mercy of God.
The commandment, which Christ gives us, is new because, while the human law obliges us from the outside, the Christian law is an invitation that makes the human heart flourish and capable of giving to God and the neighbor.
In fact, the new commandment demands to love one another, and it is not mere philanthropy. The commandment is new if one loves as the Redeemer loves him: «As I have loved you. «How, Lord?» It is this «how» that makes the difference. Loving as we are, without expecting, without reacting, always and forever, to the point of giving life and not only for the friends but above all for the enemies. As did Christ, loving us to his death.
It is not when, during his life, Jesus makes this commandment of love that it becomes new. It is when, dying on the cross and giving us the Holy Spirit, that Christ makes us capable of loving one another, instilling in us the love that he himself has for each one of us.
Furthermore, the commandment of Jesus is a new commandment in an active and dynamic sense: because it «renews», makes new, transforms everything. «It is this love that renews us, making us new men, heirs of the New Testament, singers of the new song» (Saint Augustine of Hippo).
2)The gift of a new command: the law of Charity
“Love one another”. This command given to us by Christ is the “Magna Carta” of the People who, born from his pierced chest, are saintly transformed by Love. Christ’s charity pushes us not only to acts of love but also to a life of Charity in Him.
Unfortunately, in ordinary speech and writing, the meaning of the word “love”, giver of life, is diminished to the one of a sentiment of sweet goodness or of a passion often sexual. In the Gospel the word love is always characterized by the cross, which indicates a passionate goodness whose aim is not the “possession,” but the gift of oneself to the other person. When Christ says, “I love you”, the cross is included. he means the cross, the passionate gift of his own life. Doing so, he shows us that pure and sincere love is a love that donates itself freely.
Christ reveals his love in a passionate way: with his Passion and Death on the Cross. The love that Christ reveals and proposes with a “command”, is told with delicate words and with the act of going to the Cross after having demonstrated it with the washing of the feet, the institution of the Eucharist, and many fraternal teachings.
Many times we have read and listened to the sentence of today’s Roman liturgy gospel:  “I give you a new commandment: love one another as I’ve loved you ( Jn 13:33). To help our meditation I’d like to propose as a foreword a synthetic explanation of the terms.
First of all, we must remember that for the Evangelist John, the term “commandment” means the word that reveals the love of God the Father. In the Greek text, he uses the word  “entole’ ” that means precept, advise, instruction and prescription. It is like the prescription that a physician writes to get the medicine needed to cure an illness. It is up to the patient to follow or not to follow what it prescribes. In this case a command is not a peremptory order or something we must do. The countercheck that this is the meaning that John wants to give to the word commandment, is in his gospel where, to define Moses commandments, he doesn’t use entole’ but nomos. To follow and to serve Christ we don’t need nomos. Our relationship with God is much more than to follow some rules even if they are good. God has given us commands (entole’) that guide us, shape us and takes us on his path, indications that manifest his willingness for our salvation.
In fact, the word used by John is in relationship not only to the field of law, but also to the one of responsibility. Jesus doesn’t indicate a rule, but he reveals a mission of salvation and calls to responsibility. The Latin translation is correct and puts “ mandatum novum,” which comes from mittere=to send. Jesus invites the disciples of that time as well as the disciples of today to practice this mandate and to create this mutual charity. He then says, “The world will see that you are my disciples.” The world will see that the Gospel is alive and “in force” (of a law we say that it is in force) if we will be friends and brothers to each other. The miracle of the first centuries of Christian life, testified by Tertullian who wrote that the pagans were amazed  “Look how they love one another; look how big love is among them” ( Apol. 19),  will then be renewed.
This love “commanded” by Christ has two characteristics indicated by “new” and” how”.
Jesus defines “new” the command of a reciprocal and fraternal love. It is not only a chronological novelty but also a qualitative one. The command of love is new in the same way as Jesus is new. He is the new Moses that writes the law of love not on stone, but in our heart. The reciprocal, fraternal and free love is the novelty of God’s life that bursts into our old world and renews it. It is the anticipation of the eternal life for which we all aim.

  • The gift of a command that invites to love without measure.

The Greek adverb “kathos” used in today’s Gospel is translated with the term “as”.  “Love one another as I’ve loved you”. How to understand this as? Should the disciples imitate the Master’s behavior? This would be reductive because we would make Jesus somebody of the past from whom to inherit some orders to fulfill. On the contrary, we can give a more profound interpretation. In this context kathos doesn’t have the meaning of a similitude but that one of an origin. It can be translated to “love one another with the love I’ve loved you” which is the translation more pertinent to the meaning of the written text.  The love of the Son for his disciples produces their movement of charity; it is His love, the love of Christ that goes through them when they love their brothers and receive love back.
It is the love with which Jesus loves every man that makes fraternity possible and pushes every Christian community to commit to it. It is a love always new, always free and deep like the alliance that in loving humanity and the world God manifests. (Jn 3:6, Ez 34-37, Jer 31:31).
To love one another with Christ’s heart: this is the new command. If the measure of the charity of the Redeemer is to love without measure (Saint Bernard of Clairveaux De diligendo Deo , 16), how can we be up to Christ’s love? It is an unequal task. Christ has loved completely to the point of giving his life. How can we do the same? He has given his life for us and had a thief as first companion in paradise. Christ’s love is a love where the other person comes before oneself.
How is it possible to have and to live this love?  We must surrender to this love. If we accept to be totally his, as the prophet Jeremiah had understood “My God you have seduced me and I let myself to be seduced”, we will be his children forever.  The Love that chose us from the moment in which He made us, calls us to be the shoots that adhere to the vine and produce the fruits of true life for the others.
The consecrated Virgins are a good example of this. With their full response to offering themselves to God in chastity, they show that the law of heaven has come to earth because the love of God makes possible holy love for neighbor sharing faith and mutual and helpful charity.
The credibility and the reliability of the consecrated life, on the contrary, emerges when the consecrated men and women do what they say and when what they transmit as an announced word is lived by them: they evangelize because they are evangelized, they transmit the faith because they are believers, they spread charity because they live the new commandment.
In this sense, these consecrated women are required to constantly refer to Jesus Christ, to his life as an exegesis (interpretation) of the God who is Charity. In fact, only if consecrated life is a living memory of the existence, action, and style of Jesus, it fulfills its task. The consecrated virgins are present in the Church to incarnate, live and remember to all the gestures and behaviors lived by Jesus in his human life and in his mission. In summary, in assuming the «form of the life of Jesus» the consecrated women are a sign and a living memory of the Gospel of Love

                                                           Patristic reading

                                                     Saint Augustine of Hippo

                                                                          SERMON 332

                                     ON THE BIRTHDAY OF SOME MARTYRS

Date: 410-412†1
The martyrs are the friends of Christ

  1. When we pay honor to the martyrs, we are honoring the friends of Christ. You want to know what cause has made them the friends of Christ? Christ himself shows us; he said, you see, This is my commandment, that you should love one another. Those who watch plays together love each other, those who get drunk together in shebeens love each other, those who share a bad conscience with each other love one another. So when Christ said, This is my commandment, that you should love one another, he should have distinguished the sort of love he meant.

As a matter of fact, he did; listen. After saying, you see, This is my commandment, that you should love one another, he added straightaway, as I have loved you (Jn 15:12). Love each other like that, on account of the kingdom of God, on account of eternal life. Be united in love, but of me. You would be loving each other if you were united in loving an actor. Love each other all the more by being united in loving one who cannot ever displease you, the savior.
The extent to which we are commanded to love one another

  1. The Lord went still further, and had still more to teach. It’s as though we said to him, “And how have you loved us, so that we too may know how we should love each other?” Listen: Greater charity has nobody than this, that that one should lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13). Love one another in such a way that you would each lay down your life for the rest. That, after all, is what the martyrs did, as John the evangelist himself also says in his letter: Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 Jn 3:16).

You are approaching the table of a potentate; you, the faithful, know what table you are approaching.†2 Call to mind what scripture says: When you approach the table of a potentate, know that it behooves you to prepare such things yourself (Prv 23:1). What potentate’s table are you approaching? One who sets
himself before you, not a table spread by the skill of cooks. Christ sets his table before you, namely himself. Approach this table, and take your fill. Be poor, and you will have your fill. The poor shall eat, and shall have their fill (Ps 22:26). Know that it behooves you to prepare such things yourself. To understand what this means, pay attention to John’s explanation. Perhaps, after all, you don’t know what it means, When you approach the table of a potentate, know that it behooves you to prepare such things yourself. Listen to his explanation: Just as Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to prepare such things. What’s the meaning of to prepare such things? To lay down our lives for the brethren (1 Jn 3:16).
How to be poor, in order to be rich

  1. In order to have your fill, you have come along poor; from what resources will you prepare such things yourself? Ask for them from the one who invited you, in order to have what you can entertain him on. Unless he gives it to you, you won’t have anything. But you already have a little charity? You shouldn’t even credit yourself with this. For what do you have that you have not received? (1 Cor 4:7). Ask him to increase it, ask him to perfect it, until you attain to that table than which there is none greater in this life. Greater charity has nobody than this, than that one should lay down one’s life for one’s friends (Jn 15:13). You have approached poor, you take your leave rich; or rather, you don’t take your leave, but it is by staying that you will get rich.

It was from him that the martyrs received the grace that they should suffer for his sake; you must believe it, they received it from him. The master of the house gave them the means of entertaining him. We have him, let us ask for things from him. And if we are not so worthy to receive, let us ask through his friends, who entertained him from his own gifts. May they pray for us, so that he may give them to us too. And in order to get more, we receive it from heaven. Listen to John his forerunner: Nobody can receive anything, unless it is given him from heaven (Jn 3:27). So even what we have, we have received from heaven; and in order to have more, we receive it from heaven.
What we receive from heaven is the heavenly city, into which evildoers of all sorts, especially fornicators, are not going to enter

  1. This is the very city that came down from heaven;†3 let us be such that we may enter it. You have heard, after all, what sort of people enter, what sort don’t. Don’t be such as you heard will not enter; above all, fornicators. I mean when scripture listed those who won’t enter, it also mentioned murderers; you weren’t alarmed. It mentioned fornicators;†4 I heard you beating your breasts. I heard, yes I heard, I saw; and what I didn’t see in your bedrooms, I saw in the sound, I saw in your breasts, I saw when you beat your breasts. Cast sin out of there; because to beat your breasts and go on doing the same things is nothing else than to harden sins into cement. My brothers, my sons, be chaste, love chastity,

embrace chastity, have a preference for purity; because God, the promoter of purity in his temple, which is what you are (1 Cor 3:17), requires it; he drives the impure far away from his temple.
Be satisfied with your wives, because you want your wives to be satisfied with you. You don’t want anything to be done by her apart from you; don’t you do anything apart from her. You’re the master, she’s the servant. God made you both. Sarah was obedient to Abraham, calling him lord (1 Pt 3:6). It’s true; the bishop has put his signature to these matrimonial tablets; your wives are your servants, you are the lords and masters of your wives. But when it comes to that business in which the sexes are distinguished, and each sex is mated with the other, the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Yes, you were delighted at that, you felt grand, you clapped yourself on the back.
“The apostle put it well, the chosen vessel (Acts 9:15) put the matter excellently: The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Because I am the lord and master.”
You’ve all applauded. Listen to what comes next, listen to what you don’t like, to what I beg you to like.
“What’s that?”
Listen: Likewise also the husband, that lord, and master; likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (1 Cor 7:4).
Be happy to listen to that. It’s vice, not authority, that is being taken away from you. It’s your adulteries that are being forbidden, not women that are being raised up to equality. You’re the man; show it. “Man” comes from “manliness,” vir in Latin from virtus, or virtus from vir. So have you any manliness, any virtue? Conquer lust. The head of the woman, it says, is the man. If you’re the head, lead, and let her follow; but see where you are leading her. You’re the head; lead her where she should follow; and don’t go where you wouldn’t like her to follow. In order not to tumble over a precipice, take care you walk along the straight path.
In this way prepare yourselves to go in to that newlywed bride, to that beautiful bride adorned for her husband, not with jewels, but with virtues.†5 If you enter her, you see, as men who are chaste and holy and good, you too will be members of this same newlywed bride, of the blessed and glorious heavenly Jerusalem.

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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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