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Archbishop Follo: Christian is the one who decides for Christ and follows him

With the invitation to follow Christ in whom truth and love coincide.

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Roman Rite
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – June 30th, 2019
1Kgs 19:16.19-21; Ps 16; Gal 5:1.13-18; Lk9:51-62
Only you have words of everlasting life
Ambrosian Rite
VI Sunday of Pentecost
Ex 24:3-18; Ps 49; Heb8:6-13a; Jh19:30-35
“It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
1) Sequela Christi.
“Following Christ” is an expression that synthetically describes the entire Christian existence.
In concrete terms what does “to follow Christ” mean?
It means that asking his disciples to follow him, Jesus called them to live with and like him, and to love him.
What is it to follow Christ?
It means that we are called to become an echo of the event of Christ and to become ourselves “event” because Christianity, before being a set of doctrines or a rule for salvation, is the “event” of the encounter with Christ in whom we can incorporate ourselves and with whom we can filially adhere to the will of the Father.
The Christ- event is not only to be understood by recognizing it. We must adhere following and loving this Presence that becomes a form of our life in truth and love.
If we meditate carefully on the Gospel, we see that at the beginning for the first disciples the meaning was very simple and immediate: it meant that these people had decided to leave their jobs, their business, and their whole life to go with Jesus. It meant undertaking a new profession: that of disciple. The fundamental content of this profession was to go with the teacher, entrusting oneself totally to his guidance.
Thus, the following was an external and, at the same time, a very inner thing.
The outward appearance was walking behind Jesus in his wanderings through Palestine.
The inner aspect was the new orientation of their existence, which no longer had its points of reference in business or in personal will, but that was totally abandoned to the will of an Other.
Being available to the Master had now become the reason of the disciple’s life. We can recognize in a very clear way in some scenes of the Gospels, including those of the Gospel of this Sunday what kind of renunciation to what was theirs, what turning away from ourselves this meant.
But all this was not only valid for the disciples of two thousand years ago, it is valid for each of us. With this it is also manifested what it means to us to follow and what it is a true essence for us: it is an inner change of existence which allows our inner and outer exodus.

  • To follow is an exodus[1] towards Love

Today’s Roman Rite Gospel presents the Messiah who starts his journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus travels towards the Holy City (Lk 9, 51) with knowledge, courage, and determination. The Greek expression which has been translated with the Latin adverb” decisively”, says that Christ “Made is face like stone” rendering very well the intensity of the love with which the Son of God welcomes and obeys the Father’s will.
         Jesus Christ knows that in Jerusalem his destiny of love will be completed and that his mission of Redeemer will find its accomplishment with the arrest, the trial, and the death sentence. He has no hesitation and, with a firm heart and resolution, starts his journey towards the Holy City driven by the love for the Father and the entire humanity.
During this journey, the Gospels tell us about some anonymous people that the Messiah, Pilgrim of eternity, calls to Him because He loves them.
They are people in whom every one of us can identify. These “anonymous” people are fascinated by Christ and have a strong desire to follow Him. He has become their center of love and they perceive that their life will not be any more common or desperate. He transforms a man in a saint, the true man. It is really worth to follow Him even if, in order to do so, they must abandon their lives in God’s hands.
To follow is always an exodus from oneself as Pope Francis has clearly expressed: It is Christ who called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means continuously making an “exodus” from yourselves in order to center your life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This “exodus” from us means setting out on a path of adoration and service. (Pope Francis to the Superiors General May 8, 2013). This is not just valid for the nuns that were in the assembly with him.
All Christians must follow Christ. This implies, today as well as two thousand years ago, the personal adventure of searching for Him and of going with Him. It implies also to get out from our selfishness and to break the individualism that often characterizes today’s society.
Why should we center our life on Christ? Why abandon everything to follow this man who doesn’t promise money or land and speaks “only” of love, poverty, and perfection?
Because he is the only one who has words of everlasting life, words that explain life. Words that give meaning and unity to an existence that would be confused and fragmentary.

  • To follow the Neighbor: God with us.

These are words that make our existence happy in truth of infinite love: they sanctify it. Justice doesn’t fill our heart. Christ calls us to follow Him and proposes to go beyond justice not with a theory on love but with the experience of love, the experience of Love that becomes our neighbor and overcomes death.
The true antidote to death is not life (which surrenders to death) but love. The one, who in his life follows Christ, lives in God’s love and has already in him the resurrected life of Christ. With this anticipated resurrection that permeates his life on Earth, he goes towards death and conquers it: For Love is strong as Death, longing is fierce as Sheol.” (Song of Songs 8:6). Saint John in his first letter writes: We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.(1 John 3:14). Grace in Christ becomes an event. Death is not anymore a defeat. In Jesus Christ death has become an act of love.
The life of the Christian is to follow Christ: Love is the destiny of the Christian disciple. (Eph 1, 5). If we follow Him, we are beside Him who becomes our neighbor. If we put our feet on his path, we become every day nearer to our only destination: God the source of the happiness for which we all are made.
In Christ the Neighbor (God who for us is more intimate than ourselves: Deus intimior intimo meo (Saint Augustine of Hippo)) and the neighbor become lovable to us. Love for God has the dimension parallel to the love for our brothers and sisters. We must learn again to listen and to understand the Word of which every man is spokesperson.
In Christ, the desire of infinite and of being God becomes a reality because, following Christ’s Way and Life, we imitate His sanctity. The disciple of Christ doesn’t decline being similar to God and being with God: “Dei estis” (or become gods, as Saint Paul reminds us). The disciple is so in the obedience to the Redeemer and in the abandonment to the Father.
Some years ago, people used to speak about the concept of “principle-hope[2].” I prefer to speak of the principle-mercy. In its name, we Church- people of God, are called to offer Christ’s love to everyone by announcing His words, what He has done, and His proximity and His concern for the spiritual and material suffering of humanity. Christ’s dedication to the Father and to our poor humanity up to the point of giving His own life, shows to us and through us to the world, who God is: Love that donates himself forever, Love that freely dedicates himself to the creation injured and torn apart by sin.

  • To follow is to imitate

To follow is not only identification but also imitation, above all through virginity.
The apostles and the ones called to him in today’s Gospel did not adhere to an organization but have entered in communion with the Lord who was inviting them to follow Him. They have imitated Him with truth and love and their heart has changed. It has been converted from a hearth of stone to a hearth of flesh. (See Ez 36:28). To follow has been for them and must be for us a listening packed with life and an identification with Christ. In doing so we become his disciples.
It is very important to remember that Christian matrimony and consecrated virginity are not two “opposite” ways to live in the Church the condition of disciples. These two ways coincide in the fact that each of them is the completed sign of the wedding of Christ to the Church because every one of us is called to the impeccable charity.
Regarding virginity, it is important to remember what Saint Augustine of Hippo teaches: “Follow the Lamb because the flesh of the Lamb is a virgin… follow him wherever he goes right through your virginity of heart and flesh. What does it mean to follow if not to imitate? For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, as the Apostle Peter says,” that we might follow in his footsteps” (1Pt2:21). The charity towards Christ could not be satisfied with simple bonds of affection to him. It had an absolute need to reveal itself with the imitation of His virtues and in a special way with conformity to His life entirely consecrated to what is right and to the salvation of humanity.
The consecrated virgins, like loyal disciples, follow Christ with undivided love and, besides being  “virgo sacrata” they are also “sponsa Christi” because of the anointment of the Spirit: “The consoling Spirit …through our ministry consecrates you with a new spiritual anointment” (RCV 29). In the final benediction of their consecration, it is affirmed: “The Holy Spirit has today consecrated your hearts” (RCV 56)
For the consecrated virgins, love for Christ without reserve is a following without conditions that entails a special assimilation to the Bridegroom who implicitly requires the observance of the evangelical counsels in order to preserve intact the fidelity to Him. An essential “rule of life” defines the commitment that each of the consecrated virgins assumes with the consent of the Bishop, both on a spiritual and existential level. In this regard the Pope recommends: “Make sure that your person always radiates the dignity of being spouse of Christ and expresses the novelty of Christian existence and the serene expectation of future life “.
Patristic Reading
St. John Chrysostom
Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew
Homily LV.
Matt. XVI. 24.
Link http://www.catholicprimer.
“Then said Jesus unto His disciples, If any man will come after me, let him renounce himself, (1) and take up his cross and follow me.”
Then; when? When Peter said, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee;” and was told, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” (2). For He was by no means satisfied with the mere rebuke, but, willing also more abundantly to show both the extravagance of what Peter had said, and the benefit of His passion, He saith, “Thy word to me is, “Be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto Thee:” but my word to thee is, “Not only is it hurtful to thee, and destructive, to hinder me and to be displeased at my Passion, but it will be impossible for thee even to be saved, unless thou thyself too be continually prepared for death.”
Thus, lest they should think His suffering unworthy of Him, not by the former things only, but also by the events that were coming on, He teaches them the gain thereof. Thus in John first, He saith, “Except the corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit;” (3) but here more abundantly working it out, not concerning Himself only doth He bring forward the statement that it is meet to die, but concerning them also. “For so great is the profit thereof, that in your case also unwillingness to die is grievous, but to be ready for it, good.”
This however He makes clear by what follows, but for the present He works it out on one side only. And see how He also makes His discourse unexceptionable: not saying at all, “whether you will, or no, you must suffer this,” but how? “If any man will come after me.” “I force not, I compel not, but each one I make lord of his own choice; wherefore also I say, `If any man will.’ For to good things do I call you, not to things evil, or burdensome; not to punishment and vengeance, that I should have to compel. Nay, the nature of the thing is alone sufficient to attract you.”
Now, thus saying, He drew them unto Him the more. For he indeed that uses compulsion oftens turns men away, but he that leaves the hearer to choose attracts him more. For soothing is a mightier thing than force. Wherefore even He Himself said, “If any man will.” “For great,” saith He, “are the good things which I give you, and such as for men even to run to them of their own accord. For neither if one were giving gold, and offering a treasure, would he invite with force. And if that invitation be without compulsion, much more this, to the good things in the Heavens. Since if the nature of the thing persuade thee not to run, thou art not worthy to receive it at all, nor if thou shouldest receive it, wilt thou well know what thou hast received.”
Wherefore Christ compels not, but urges, sparing us. For since they seemed to be murmuring much, being secretly disturbed at the saying, He saith, “No need of disturbance or of trouble. If ye do not account what I have mentioned to be a cause of innumerable blessings, even when befalling yourselves, I use no force, nor do I compel, but if any be willing to follow, him I call.”
“For do not by any means imagine that this is your following of me; I mean, what ye now do attending upon me. Ye have need of many toils, many dangers, if ye are to come after me. For thou oughtest not, O Peter, because thou hast confessed me Son of God, therefore only to expect crowns, and to suppose this enough for thy salvation, and for the future to enjoy security, as having done all. For although it be in my power, as Son of God, to hinder thee from having any trial at all of those hardships; yet such is not my will, for thy sake, that thou mayest thyself too contribute something, and be more approved.”
For so, if one were a judge at the games, and had a friend in the lists, he would not wish to crown him by favor only, but also for his own toils; and for this reason especially, because he loves him. Even so Christ also; whom He most loves, those He most of all will have to approve themselves by their own means also, and not from His help alone.
But see how at the same time He makes His saying not a grievous one. For He doth by no means compass them only with His terror, but He also puts forth the doctrine generally to the world, saying, “If anyone will,” be it woman or man, ruler or subject, let him come this way.
1] [R.V., “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself,” etc. The Oxford translator substitutes “renounce” to bring out the distinction between aparnesthai and arnesthai, which is pointed out in the Homily, sec. 2.–R.] [2132] Matt. xvi. 22, 23.
[2133] John xii. 24.
[2134] arnesstho.
[2135] aparnesstho. [Comp. note, p. 338.] [2136] Matt. x. 5, 16, 18.
[2137] [R.V., “shall a man be profited;” so the Homily here, against rec. text.–R.] [2138] Matt. xvi. 25. 26. [Chrysostom inserts hupr, and takes psuch in ver. 26as “soul,” but in his comment in ver. 25recognizes the obvious contrast between lower and higher life.–R.] [2139] Prov. xxiii. 13, 14.
[2140] Ecclus. xxx. 7.
[2141] [The word “God” is supplied by the translator, but this is not necessarily the sense; the subject may be the man himself.–R.] [2142] [Here the citation agrees with the rec. text.–R.] [2143] [Here hupr does not occur, the text agreeing with the received.–R.] [2144] Matt. xvi. 37. [Some mss. of the Homily omit hagon, and read tn prxin for t rga (see note 1, p. 342). So R.V.–R.] [2145] 1 Cor. xv. 41.
[2146] [tn prxin, the reading accepted in R.V.–R.] [2147] Deut. xxxii. 15 [LXX.] [2148] Deut. vi. 11, 12.
[2149] Colos. iii. 17.
[2150] Luke xii. 7. [Very freely cited.] [2151] Deut. viii. 3; Matt. iv. 4.
[2152] Gal. v. 22.
[2153] 2 Cor. ix. 8.
[2154] Gal. i. 4, 5.
[2155] Rom. i. 25.
[2156] apanchoniznton, a strong figurative expression, as it seems, for the unhallowed self-tormenting of the Manichæans. In Hom. XLII., the word is applied to Saul, “choking with envy” towards David.
[2157] [In some mss. the two paragraphs which follow are omitted, “and not be ashamed” being joined with this clause.–R.] [2158] Matt. vi. 33. [Here, also, the peculiar reading “Kingdom of Heaven” occurs. Comp. Homily XXII. 4.–R.] [2159] [See above, note 1.–R.] [2160] The grace here commented on is in its commencement the same with one still used before meat in collegiate bodies: e.g. in Oriel College, Oxford. “Benedicte Deus qui pascis nos in juventute nostra, et præbes cibum omni carni: reple gaudio et lætitia corda nostra, ut nos affatim quod satis est habentes, abundemus ad omne opus bonum: Per Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum: Amen.” The conclusion of St. Chrysostom’s grace seems to be referred to by St. Just Mart. Apol. 1. p. 83 C. and p. 50 E. as quoted by Mr. Field here.

  • Exodus from odos =way, ex =from is an exit from a place of exile towards a land of freedom. The Jewish people had their exodus from Egypt towards the Promised Land. The Son of God who had descended from Heaven to save us, from Earth has returned to the House of the father traveling towards Jerusalem where the altar of the Cross was waiting for him.

[2]  In 1964 Juergen Moltmann wrote” The Theology of Hope” a work that debated the philosophies of Hope and above all the thinking of Ernst Bloch, author of “The Principle Hope” (1954-1959)

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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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