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Archbishop Follo: By Faith we Live, Follow and Await the Lord

With the invitation to wait for Christ who is coming, as a mother who is waiting for an encounter with the child whom she bears in her womb.

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Roman Rite
XIX Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- August 11, 2019
Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33; Heb 1:1-2.8-9; Lk 12:32-48
Ambrosian Rite
XII Sunday of Pentecost
2 Kings 25:1-17; Ps77; Rm2:1-10; Mt 23, 37-24, 2
1) Be ready.
 The liturgy of the Word of this XIX Sunday of Ordinary Time invites us to vigilance (see the Gospel) and to faith (see the first and second reading). Three times the invitation of the Redeemer is repeated: «Be ready». For what? For the splendor of the encounter with the Lord of life and not with the threatening God, thief of life. It is not a meeting with a God who is the projection of our fears and our violent moralism, but with a God who makes himself a servant of his servants, who «will make them sit at the table and serve them». What a wonderful God is the one who bends before man with esteem, respect, and gratitude. Man has created a God who is a Master, Christ reveals us a God who is Father, rich in mercy and love. No human mind could and can conceive that the Lord becomes the servant putting himself at the service of our life.
The servants are not required to wait and be vigilant until dawn for the coming of the master. It is «something more» not dictated either by duty or by fear. One keeps watch only if he loves, desires, and is impatient for the moment of hugs to come: «Where your treasure is, there it will also be your heart”. A master (that of the parable) who is a treasure, a treasure of a Father towards whom the arrow of the heart points straight as if he were the beloved of the Canticle: «I sleep, but my heart watches» (5: 2).
Accepting the pressing invitation to vigilance, typical of the evangelical context reported in today’s Gospel, we must always be ready for the ultimate and definitive encounter with the Lord: «Blessed are those servants whom the master will find awake when he returns. . . And if he arrives in the middle of the night or before dawn, he will find them like this, lucky them!». Life is a journey towards eternity; we must deal intensively with all the talents, without ever forgetting that «we do not have here the stable city, but we go in search of the future one» (Heb 13: 14). Every moment becomes precious precisely because of this perspective. We must live and work overtime, carrying into our hearts the longing for heaven. God created us to make us partakers of his eternal and absolute happiness. We fail to understand what this supreme and total joy is, but Jesus makes us understand it saying that the situation will then turn upside down and God himself will put himself at our service: «Truly, I say to you, he will put on his garments, sit them at the table and serve them.» The thought of paradise must make us rejoice in the joy of love (Pope Francis) and must stimulate all to a constant commitment to their own holiness.
2) Providence: God’s loyalty that supports us always.
The second common thread of today’s Roman Liturgy is faith1 as confidence in God’s loyalty.
In the first reading, we are told that in the night of the liberation from slavery God gave to his people a column of fire as a guide for the unknown journey. Showing in daylight a column of clouds and at night a column of fire, God never abandons his people. The memory of God’s gifts and of His actions to liberate and guide the chosen people invites us to have faith in the Lord who guides his people from slavery to freedom.
In the second reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews shows us that faith is inside the history of a people that has strongly believed in God. Abraham is such a great example that he is called” our Father in faith”. He believed not because he had seen God but because He has listened to Him and started a journey towards an unexpected future. We are also called to live the same faith that has pushed Abraham to live on earth as a pilgrim. The history of salvation, that has in Abraham a stronghold, is like a pilgrimage that gradually is fulfilled revealing more promises towards the full communion with God: from earth to progeny to live in God’s home.
Like Abraham, we believers are always “on the road”, eternal pilgrims towards a homeland that is not a place but a state. It is not to live with God but to be in Him like the shoots “into” the grapevine. Paraphrasing the Letter to Diognetus (ii, 5, 1-16) we can say that we Christian inhabit a land, but we are there as pilgrims: every foreign land is a homeland for us, every homeland is a foreign land. We live our life on earth but we are a citizen of Heaven (Heb 13-14)
We find a true testimony of this situation in the consecrated Virgins who live in the world but are not of the world. With their consecration, they have given their heart to the Spouse for whom they wait intensely to welcome him with devotion, to love him in chastity and to serve him constantly (see Rite of the Consecration of the Virgins, 25). Consecrated life shows the truth of the experience of giving oneself to God. In the continuous conversion to the Lord, the person finds a solid road that makes him/her free.
3) The vigilance: our loyalty to Christ always
Let us now complete the reflections proposed in the first paragraph (point [1]).
In today’s Gospel passage (Lk 12: 32-48), Jesus, in addition to the invitation to trust in providence, also speaks of the importance of vigilance in the waiting of his return.
The subject to whom Jesus turns to is the” little flock”: a flock loved by God, chosen and intended for the Kingdom, but a little flock. This small number could raise doubt and discouragement in the heart of many. It is a discouragement to push away: the history of salvation is ruled by the law of the “remainder of Israel” that is the small group of true believers in whom the Kingdom is realized for the benefit of all.
The small flock is invited not to be afraid.” Do not be afraid” means watch, readiness and commitment, all in a spirit of great faith. The Kingdom is donated (the Father” was pleased to give us the Kingdom”) and rests on his love, not on our performances. We must not be afraid.
The small flock is also invited to give away its assets. “Sell all that you have and give the money to charity” This is the richness that never fails compared to the “have more” that we find in the parable of the unwise rich man. This is the orientation for our heart: “Where your treasure is, there is your heart”.
4) Blind to evil to see good.
The evangelical story carries on with a language full of imagery (verses 35-40) whose meaning is however very clear. “Gird your loins and light your lamps”. The image of the lamps reminds us of the parable of the wise and unwise virgins. The belt recalls the way the laborers lifted and rolled their garments at their waist to be free in their movements and the way the travelers lifted their garments to walk faster. It is advisable to have the wandering and vigil attitude that doesn’t allow being inactive. Too many things can obstruct the spirit and make us inactive at the expenses of hope. (Hope is not only waiting for the afterlife but also the ability to transform things on this earth keeping in mind that first, we need to convert. Otherwise, Tolstoy would be right when he wrote “Everybody thinks about changing the world, but nobody thinks about changing himself”).
After the short parable of the Owner that comes back from the wedding and the one of the Lord that comes suddenly like a robber, there is one of the loyal administrator (verses 41-48). In this way, the theme of the watch is enriched by a new attitude: loyalty in the administration of the owner’s assets and sense of responsibility. What are the owner’s assets to be administered with loyalty and responsibility? The text doesn’t say it clearly, but we can think at the use of all the goods (wealth, relationships, all) that God gave us, and that we must administrate and not kept only for us.
Loyalty and a sense of responsibility are requested in proportion with the knowledge that everyone has of the owner. The bigger is the knowledge the bigger is the responsibility. Loyalty and responsibility are above all requested to the believers so that they can do the true work in God’s wine yard, the Church.
The important thing is to grow in faith to “see” that God is Father and that he can be called owner because he is omnipotent. In Jesus, the Father puts omnipotence to the service of his charity making it good and lovable by everyone. In Jesus faith makes us “blind” to evil and able to see Good, Charity, Sainthood and Eternal Life. Acting in this way we can guide our brothers in Christ to Peace and to the Father.
Let’s not be tired of looking at Christ on the Cross. The more we put our eyes on Him and the more we will see the light through his chest open to love, and we will believe because faith is born from the light of love.
Let’s become poor in spirit making all assets servant of Justice and using them with the justice that consumes in charity and reveals itself in mercy (see Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 7 and 13).
Faith is the light of love
In God’s gift of faith, a supernatural infused virtue, we realize that a great love has been offered us, a good word has been spoken to us, and that when we welcome that word, Jesus Christ the Word made flesh, the Holy Spirit transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along that way on wings of hope. Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope, and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God. (LF 7)
Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. (LF 13)
Patristic Reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 -430)
Sermon LVIII. [CVIII. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Lc 12,35 “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like,” etc. And on the words of the 34th psalm, 5,12, “what man is he that desireth life,” etc.

  1. Our Lord Jesus Christ both came to men, and went away from men, and is to come to men. And yet He was here when He came, nor did He depart when He went away, and He is to come to them to whom He said, “Lo, I am with you, even unto the end of the world.”1 According to the “form of a servant” then, which He took for our sakes, was He born at a certain time, and was slain, and rose again, and now “dieth no more, neither shall death have any more dominion over Him;”2 but according to His Divinity, wherein He was equal to the Father, was He already in this world, and “the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not.”3 On this point ye have just heard the Gospel, what admonition it has given us, putting us on our guard, and wishing us to be unencumbered and prepared to await the end; that after these last4 things, which are to be feared in this world, that rest may succeed which hath no end. Blessed are they who shall be partakers of it. For then shall they be in security, who are not in security now; and again then shall they fear, who will not fear now. Unto this waiting, and for this hope’s sake, have we been made Christians. Is not our hope not of this world? Let us then not love the world. From the love of this world have we been called away, that we may hope for and love another. In this world ought we to abstain from all unlawful desires, to have, that is, “our loins girded;” and to be fervent and to shine in good works, that is, to have “our lights burning.” For the Lord, Himself said to His disciples in another place of the Gospel, “No man lighteth a candle and putteth it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light unto all that are in the house.”5 And to show of what He was speaking, He subjoined and said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”6
  2. Therefore He would that “our loins should be girded, and our lights burning.”7 What is, “our loins girded”? “Depart from evil.”8 What is to “burn”? What is to have our “lights burning”? It is this, “And do good.” What is that which He said afterwards, “And ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will return from the wedding:”9 except that which follows in that Psalm, “Seek after peace, and ensue it”?10 These three things, that is, “abstaining from evil, and doing good,” and the hope of everlasting reward, are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is written, that Paul taught them of “temperance and righteousness,”11 and the hope of eternal life. To temperance belongs, “let your loins be girded.” To righteousness, “and your lights burning.” To the hope of eternal life, the waiting for the Lord. So then, “depart from evil,” this is temperance, these are the loins girded: “and do good,” this is righteousness, these are the “lights burning;” “seek peace, and ensue it,” this is the waiting for the world to come: therefore, “Be ye like unto men that wait for their Lord, when He will come from the wedding.”
  3. Having then these precepts and promises, why seek we on earth for “good days,” where we cannot find them? For I know that ye do seek them when ye are either sick or in any of the tribulations, which in this world abound. For when life draws towards its close, the old man is full of complaints, and with no joys. Amid all the tribulations by which mankind is worn away, men seek for nothing but “good days,” and wish for a long life, which here they cannot have. For even a man’s long life is narrowed within so short a span to the wide extent of all ages, as if it were but one drop to the whole sea. What then is man’s life, even that which is called a long one? They call that a long life, which even in this world’s course is short; and as I have said, groans abound even unto the decrepitude of old age. This at the most is but brief, and of short duration; and yet how eagerly is it sought by men, with how great diligence, with how great toil, with how great carefulness, with how great watchfulness, with how great labor do men seek to live here for a long time, and to grow old. And yet this very living long, what is it but running to the end? Thou hadst yesterday, and thou dost wish also to have to-morrow. But when this day and to-morrow are passed, thou hast them not. Therefore thou dost wish for the day to break, that may draw near to thee whither thou hast no wish to come. Thou makest some annual festival with thy friends, and hearest it there said to thee by thy well-wishers, “Mayest thou live many years,” thou dost wish that what they have said, may come to pass. What? Dost thou wish that years and years may come, and the end of these years come not? Thy wishes are contrary to one another; thou dost wish to walk on and dost not wish to reach the end.
  4. But if, as I have said, there is so great care in men, as to desire with daily, great and perpetual labors, to die somewhat later: with how great cause ought they to strive, that they may never die? Of this, no one will think. Day by day “good days” are sought for in this world, where they are not found; yet no one wishes so to live, that he may arrive there where they are found. Therefore the same Scripture admonishes us, and says, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?”12 Scripture so asked the question, as that It knew well what answer would be given It; knowing that all men would “seek for life and good days.” In accordance with their desire, It asked the question, as if the answer would be given It from the heart of all, “I wish it;” It said thus, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” Just as even at this very hour in which I am speaking to you when ye heard me say, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” ye all answered in your heart, “I.” For so do I too, who am speaking with you, “wish for life and good days;” what ye seek, that do I seek also.
  5. Just as if gold were necessary for us all, and we all, I as well as you, were wishing to get at the gold, and there was some anywhere in a field of yours, in a place subject to your power, and I were to see you searching for it, and were to say to you, “What are ye searching for?” ye were to answer me, “Gold.” And I were to say to you, “Ye are searching for gold, and I am searching for gold too: what ye are searching for, I am searching for; but ye are not searching for it where we can find it. Listen to me then, where we can find it; I am not taking it away from you, I am showing you the spot;” yea, let us all follow Him, who knows where what we are seeking for, is. So now too seeing that ye desire “life and good days,” we cannot say to you, “Do not desire ‘life and good days;’“ but this we say, “Do not seek for ‘life and good days’ here in this world, where ‘good days’ cannot be.” Is not this life itself like unto death? Now these days here hasten and pass away: for to-day has shut out yesterday; tomorrow only rises that it may shut out to-day. These days themselves have no abiding; wherefore wouldest thou abide with them? Your desire then whereby ye wish for “life and good days,” I not only do not repress, but I even more strongly inflame. By all means “seek” for” life, seek for good days;” but let them be sought there, where they can be found.
  6. For would ye with me hear His counsel, who knoweth where “good days” and where “life” is? Hear it not from me, but together with me. For One says to us, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me.” And let us run together, and stand, and prick up our ears, and with our hearts understand the Father, who hath said, “Come, ye children, hearken unto Me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”13 And then follows what he would teach us, and to what end the fear of the Lord is useful. “Who is the man that wisheth life, and loveth to see good days?” We all answer, “We wish it.” Let us listen then to what follows, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.”14 Now say, “I wish it.” Just now when I said, “Who is the man that wisheth for life, and loveth to see good days?” we all answered, “I.” Come then, let someone now answer “I.” So then, “Refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile.” Now say, “I.” Wouldest thou then have “good days” and “life,” and wouldest thou not “refrain thy tongue from evil, and thy lips that they speak no guile”? Alert to the reward, slow to the work! And to whom if he does not work is the reward rendered? I would that in thy house thou wouldest render the reward even to him that does work! For to him that works not, I am sure thou dost not render it. And why? Because thou owest nothing to him that does not work! And God hath a reward proposed. What reward? “Life and good days,” which life we all desire, and unto which days we all strive to come. The promised reward He will give us. What reward? “Life and good days.” And what are “good days”? Life without end, rest without labor.
  7. Great is the reward He hath set before us: in so great a reward as is set before us, let us see what He hath commanded us. For enkindled by the reward of so great a promise, and by the love of the reward, let us make ready at once our strength, our sides, our arms, to do His bidding. Is it as if He were to command us to carry heavy burdens, to dig something it may be, or to raise up some machine? No, no such laborious thing hath He enjoined thee but hath enjoined thee only to “refrain” that member which amongst all thy members thou dost move so quickly. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” It is no labor to erect a building, and is it labor to hold in the tongue? “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” Speak no lie, speak no revilings, speak no slanders, speak no false witnesses, speak no blasphemies. “Refrain thy tongue from evil.” See how angry thou art, if anyone speaks evil of thee. As thou art angry with another, when he speaks evil of thee; so be thou angry with thyself, when thou speakest evil of another. “Let thy lips speak no guile.” What is in thine heart within, be that spoken out. Let not thy breast conceal one thing, and thy tongue utter another. “Depart from evil, and do good.” For how should I say, “Clothe the naked,” to him who up to this time would strip him that is clothed? For he that oppresses his fellow-citizen, how can he take in the stranger? So then in proper order, first “depart from evil,” and “do good;” first “gird up thy loins,” and then “light the lamp.” And when thou hast done this, wait in assured hope for “life and good days.” “Seek peace, and ensue it;” and then with a good face wilt thou say unto the Lord, “I have done what Thou hast bidden, render me what Thou hast promised.”

1 (Mt 28,20).
2.  (Rm 6,9).
3.  (Jn 1,10).
4 The troubles through the incursions of the barbarian tribes, as heralds of the end. See St. Cyprian, Ad Demetr. 2, p. 201, Oxf. tr.; De Mort. 5,2, p. 216, 7.
5 (Mt 5,15).
6 (Mt 5,16).
7 (Lc 12,35).
8 (Ps 34,14).
9 (Lc 12,36).
10 (Ps 34,14).
11 (Ac 24,25).
12 (Ps 34,12).
13 (Ps 34,11).
14 (Ps 34,13).

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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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