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Archbishop Follo: On the Fire of the Holy Spirit

Discerning the opportune moment (kairòs) to serve the peace of Christ

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Roman rite
XX Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C – August 18th, 2019.
Jer 38.4-6.8-10; Ps 39; Heb 12: 1-4; Lk 12.49-53
Ambrosian rite
13th Pentecost Sunday.
Ne 1,1-4, 2,1-8; Ps 83; Rm 15,25-32; Mt 21.10-1
1) Fire.
From the teaching of Pope Francis who, commenting on this Sunday’s Gospel spoke of the image of fire, baptism, and division, I take some of his reflections on the fire that is the one of the Holy Spirit. This fire is a creative force that purifies and renews. It regenerates us and makes us capable of loving. «Jesus – the Pope reminded us on August 18, 2013 – wants the Holy Spirit to flare up in our hearts. We need the Holy Spirit to not let ourselves be held back by fear and calculation … Thanks to this fire we are called to become people with a dilated heart and a joyful face «(Id.).
Very wisely Pope Francis speaks of the desire of fire, of light, of the love that Christ came to bring. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit that will come down on Pentecost; it is the baptism of water and fire of which the Baptist spoke. It is the fire of God’s judgment that is his love that saves the world. Jesus has this great desire to light the fire. At the same time, he finds himself distressed, because this fire comes from a baptism and from a water (water is death) that comes from the cross.
If the fire of the Spirit creates a communication of love, why is the Redeemer speaking of division, confiding to his disciples: «Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? 
No, I tell you, but rather division. «? And he adds: «From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law «(Lk 12.51-53). Anyone who knows a bit of the Gospel of Christ knows that he is the message of peace par excellence. Jesus himself «is our peace» (Ephesians 2:14), who died and rose to break down the wall of enmity and inaugurate God’s Kingdom which is love, joy, and peace. Then how can these words be explained? What does the Lord refer to when he says he came to bring – according to Saint Luke – «division», or – according to Saint Matthew – the «sword» (Mt 10,34)?
This expression of Christ means that the peace that he came to bring is not synonymous with the simple absence of conflict. On the contrary, Jesus’ peace is the fruit of a constant struggle against evil. The clash that Jesus is determined to support is not against men or human powers, but against the enemy of God and man, Satan. Whoever wants to resist this enemy by remaining faithful to God and to goodness must necessarily face misunderstandings and sometimes real persecutions. Therefore, those who intend to follow Jesus and commit themselves without compromise to the truth must know that they will meet with opposition and will become a sign of division between people, even within their own families. Love for parents is in fact a sacred commandment, but in order to be lived in an authentic way, it can never be placed before the love of God and of Christ. In this way, in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, Christians become «instruments of his peace», according to the famous expression of Saint Francis of Assisi. Not of an inconsistent and apparent peace, but of a real peace, pursued with courage and tenacity in the daily commitment to overcome evil with good (see Rom 12:21) paying in person the price that this entails.
2) The sword turned into a plow.
Speaking of division or the sword, Jesus did not deny his teaching, which was and is a message of pace. He «is our peace» (Eph 2:14), He died and rose to break down the wall of enmity and inaugurate God’s Kingdom which is love, joy, and peace.
Indeed, Jesus Christ meant that he had come to bring war to Evil that is offense, to the Evil that kills the soul and the body, to the world that follows Evil and becomes a place of constant conflict. We can consider his words as a declaration of war on war. War on Evil. Human war is an evil on the surface, but first, there is the great evil, brought by the devil1, who personifies the love-of-nothing.
Centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had proclaimed «They will cut their swords into plows, their spears into sickles» (Is 2,4). Jesus accomplished it by becoming «Arator Pacis«2, He is the sower the farmer who puts his hand to the plow, which «divides», opens the earth which can thus receive the seed. The earth is us, if we welcome the seed that comes from its pierced side, we will not produce grass that soon becomes dry, but we will become with him and in him wheat of life.
The outcome of the work of this «Arator Pacis» is the peace of love, of a love that is not only given to us but transforms us. As God is truly the Love that loves us, so we become the love that loves; transformed by him we become love as He is Love! And we are in his peace.
Those who want to follow him in this «operation-concord3» must do the same by striking the war in its origin which is the love of self, that is, a disordered love of self that becomes love of riches, pride in what one has, envy of whom has more, contempt for the poor.
If the Gospel, at least, at first sight, is the cause of separations and discords, the fault is not of the truth that the Gospel teaches, but of the fact that this truth is not yet loved and practiced by us Christians.
3) Soldiers for a war against the war.
For this war on war, Jesus uses a strange strategy regarding the choice of soldiers, the instruments to use and the orders (it would be more correct to say indications, words of love) to execute.
The Lord of peace for his war on war wanted to choose the weakest soldiers. For a mysterious design, he chose poor people who were considered mediocre by public opinion, so that the prodigy of the superhuman posthumous victory would shine higher.
To these petty soldiers, Christ did not grant either a purse, a haversack, or sandals, let alone weapons. He also sent them like lambs among wolves, as beneficent beings amid ferocious beasts, giving the order not to be devoured and to make the devourers of meek lambs like their prey.
The apostles4 were faithful to the sublime absurdity of the One who sent them. And like Christ, they brought peace and war. In fact, it must be kept in mind that if the Gospel, at first, was and is the cause of separations and of discussions, the fault is not of the truths that the Gospel teaches, but of the fact that these truths were not and are not yet practiced by everyone.
What I wish to emphasize here is that the Christian fulfillment of peace is not realized on the social and political level, but in the direction of the depth of the heart.
How then is the battle for peace carried out in Christianity? Just as evil has invaded the world through the sin of men and its separation from God, so Christian redemption reconciles man with God. This reconciliation can only be realized in the most intimate center of the soul, where only man can again meet with God in Christ. Peace, the fruit of this reconciliation with Christ, can only be an inner peace, which then radiates outwards to the whole world.
If we want to be soldiers of peace, it is necessary and urgent to return to the full and sharp awareness of the centrality of Christ. Jesus is not an excuse to talk about anything else and must return to the center of all our primary interests and every ecclesial experience. It must also be the decisive and effective inspiration of all our religious, ecclesial, cultural and social commitments.
Belonging to the risen Christ, «center of the cosmos and of history», as John Paul II wrote in his first unforgettable encyclical Redemptor hominis, defines the whole understanding of our following of Christians. Thus, every gesture in us is born as a response to the event of Jesus of Nazareth and as a desire to participate in the purpose for which he entered the time and space of the world. If any person, at the time of the Gospels, would have been asked: «Have you heard of Jesus?» and he then, meeting Him in the dusty streets of Palestine, had asked him this question «But what name do you have, how is your name? «, Jesus could have answered:» I am the mandate (missus, in Latin – apostolos, in Greek) by the Father «. These words define the new nature of our existence that the encounter with Christ generated. We have been called to be like him «the mandates, the sent by the Father».
In this «apostolic» mandate there is the form of life of the consecrated virgins who respond to the vocation to virginity because Christ is the affective (and rational) center of their life and to remind the whole world that we live for Christ. To live in consecration means to live life in peace because the night is no longer night, death is no longer death, and virginity is a sacrifice to be in the embrace of the Lord to whom one totally surrenders. To live the virginal consecration means to be like Jesus «a sign of contradiction» (Lk 2, 34) and to be, like the Mary, mothers of Christ and mothers of the new man.
They testify that we were created to love and that our real and true happiness lies in being «possessed» by Christ, in which the human heart can rest and be satisfied. As Cardinal John H. Newman said: «Faith can make one serene, but love makes us happy«.
1The term «devil» comes from the Latin diabŏlus, a translation from the first version of the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible, made in the 5th century AD) of the Greek word Διάβολος, diábolos, («divide», «he who divides», «slanderer»). «,» Accuser «; from the Greek διαβάλλω, dia-bàllo, verb formed by dia» through, for «and bàllo» I throw, I put «, then I cast, I put through, I pierce, metaphorically I slander). In classical Greek ,was an adjective denoting something or someone as a slanderer and a defamer; it was used in the 3rd century BC C. to translate in the Greek translation of the Bible called of the «Seventies», the Hebrew Śāṭān («adversary», «enemy», «he who opposes», «accuser in trial», «contradictor», rendered in Christian writings as Satan and here understood as «adversary, enemy of God»).
2 Arator in Latin is literally ‘the one who plows ‘often translated with sower.
3it is a military custom to name war campaigns and military operations.
4From the Greek απόστολος, apóstolo: envoy, mandate
Patristic Reading
Saint Augustin of Hippo (354 – 430
Sermon LIX. [CIX. Ben.]
On the words of the gospel, Lc 12,56-58 “Ye know how to interpret the face of the Earth and the Heaven,” etc.; And of the words, “for as thou art going with thine adversary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him,” etc.
1). We have heard the Gospel, and in it the Lord reproving those who knew how to discern the face of the sky, and know not how to discover the time of faith, the kingdom of heaven which is at hand. Now this He said to the Jews; but His words reach even unto us. Now the Lord Jesus Christ Himself began the preaching of His Gospel in this way; “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”1 In like manner too John the Baptist and His forerunner began thus; “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”2 And now the Lord rebuketh those who would not repent, when “the kingdom of heaven was at hand.” “The kingdom of heaven,” as He saith Himself, “will not come with observation.”3 And again He saith, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.”4 Let every one then wisely receive the admonitions of the Master,5 that he may not lose the season of the mercy of the Saviour, which is now being dealt out, as long as the human race is spared. For to this end is man spared, that he may be converted, and that he may not be to be condemned. God only knoweth when the end of the world shall come: nevertheless now is the time of faith. Whether the end of the world shall find any of us here, I know not; and perhaps it will not find us. Our time is very near to each one of us, seeing we are mortal. We walk in the midst of chances. If we were made of glass, we should have to fear chances less than we have. What is more fragile than a vessel of glass? And vet it is kept, and lasts for ages. For though the chances of a fall are feared for the vessel of glass, yet there is no fear of fever or old age for it. We then are more fragile and more infirm; because all the chances which are incessant in human things, we doubtless through our frailness are in dailydread of; and if these chances come not, yet time goes on; a man avoids this stroke, can he avoid his end? he avoids accidents which happen from without, can that which is born within be driven away? Again, now the entrails engender worms, now some other disease attacks on a sudden; lastly, let a man be spared ever so long, at last when old age comes, there is no way of putting off that.
148 2. Wherefore let us give ear to the Lord, let us do within ourselves what He hath enjoined. Let us see who that adversary is, of whom He hath put us in fear, saying, “If thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him; lest haply he deliver thee to the magistrate, and the magistrate to the officer, and thou be cast into prison, from whence thou shalt not come out, till thou payest the very last farthing.”6 Who is this “adversary”? If the devil; we have been delivered from him already. What a price was given for us that we might be redeemed from him! Of which the Apostle says, speaking of this our redemption, “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love.”7 We have been redeemed, we have renounced the devil; how shall we “give diligence to be delivered from him,” that he make us not, as sinners, his captives again? But this is not the “adversary” of whom the Lord gives us warning. For in another place another Evangelist has so expressed it, that if we join both expressions together, and compare both expressions of the two Evangelists with each other, we shall soon understand who this adversary is. For see, what did Luc say here? “When thou goest with thine adversary to the magistrate, give diligence in the way to be delivered from him.”8 But the other Evangelist has expressed this same thing thus: “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him.” All the rest is alike: “Lest haply the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison.”9 Both Evangelists have explained this alike. One said, “Give diligence in the way to be delivered from him;” the other said, “Agree with him.” For thou wilt not be able to “be delivered from him,” unless thou “agree with him.” Wouldest thou “be delivered from him? Agree with him.” But what? is it the devil with whom the Christian ought to “agree”?
3. Let us then seek out this “adversary,” with whom we ought to “agree, lest he deliver us to the judge, and the judge to the officer;” let us seek him out, “and agree with him.” If thou sin, the word of God is thine adversary.10 For example, it is a delight to thee perchance to be drunken; it says to thee, “Do it not.” It is a delight to thee to frequent the spectacles, and such triflings; it says to thee, “Do it not.” It is a delight to thee to commit adultery; the word of God saith to thee, “Do it not.” In what sins soever thou wouldest do thine own will, it saith to thee, “Do it not.” It is the adversary of thy will, till it become the author of thy salvation. O how goodly, how useful an “adversary”! It does not seek our will, but our advantage. It is our “adversary,” as long as we are our own adversaries. As long as thou art thine own enemy, thou hast the word of God thine enemy; be thine own friend, and thou art in agreement with it. “Thou shalt do no murder;” give ear, and thou hast “agreed” with it. “Thou shalt not steal;” give ear, and thou hast “agreed” with it. “Thou shalt not commit adultery;” give ear, and thou hast “agreed” with it. “Thou shall not give false witness;” give ear, and thou hast “agreed” with it. “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s wife;” give ear, and thou hast agreed with it. “Thou shall not covet thy neighbour’s goods;”11 give ear, and thou hast “agreed” with it. In all these things thou hast agreed with this “thine adversary,” and what hast thou lost to thyself? Not only hast thou lost nothing; but thou hast even found thyself, who hadst been lost. “The way,” is this life; if we shall “agree with the adversary,” if we shall come to terms with him; when “the way” is ended, we shall not fear the “judge, the officer, the prison.
1 (Mt 4,17
2 (Mt 3,2
3 (Lc 17,20
4 (Lc 17,21
6 (Lc 12,58-59.
7 (Col 1,13
8 (Lc 12,58).
9 (Mt 5,25
10 Serm. 9,3). De decem chordis.
11 (Ex 20,13 etc).
4. When is “the way” ended? It is not ended at the same hour to all. Each several man hath his hour when he shall end his “way.”This life is called “the way;” when thou hast ended this life, thou hast ended “the way.” We are going on, and the very living is advancing. Unless peradventure ye imagine that time advances, and we stand still! It cannot be. As time advances, we too advance; and years do not come to us, but rather go away. Greatly are men mistaken when they say, “This boy has little good sense yet, but years will come on him, and he will be wise.” Consider what thou sayest. “Will come on him,” thou hast said; “I will show that they go away,” whereas thou sayest, “they come on.” And hear how easily I prove it. Let us suppose that we have known the number of his years from his birth; for instance (that we may wish him well) he has to live fourscore years, he is to arrive at old age. Write down fourscore years. One year he has lived; how many hast thou in the total? how manyhast thou down? Fourscore! Deduct one. He has lived ten; seventy remain. He has lived twenty; sixty remain. Yet surely, it will be said, they did come; what can this mean? Our years come that they may depart; they come, I say that they may go. For they do not come, that they may abide with us, but as they pass through us, they wear us out, and make us less and less strong. Such is “the way” into which we have come. What then have we to do with that “adversary,” that is, with the word of God? “Agree with him.” For thou knowest not when “the way” may be ended. When “the way” is ended, there remain “the judge,” and “the officer,” and “the prison.” But if thou maintain a good will to “thine adversary,” and “agree with him;” instead of a “judge,” shalt thou find a father, instead of a cruel “officer,” an Angel taking thee away into Abraham’s bosom, instead of a “prison,” paradise. How rapidly hast thou changed all things “in the way,” because thou hast “agreed with thine adversary”!

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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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