Mgr Follo, 2016 © Courtoisie De La Mission Du Saint-Siège À L'UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: We Cannot Love Good If Our Heart Is Attached to Earthly Goods

‘Holiness is not doing great things, but obeying as children, namely free’

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Roman rite

XXIII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C – September 8, 2019.

Wis 9, 13-18; Ps 90; Phil 1.9b-10.12-17; Lk 14, 25-33

Renunciation for love is a joyful gift.


Ambrosian rite

II Sunday after the martyrdom of Saint John the Precursor

Is 5.1-7; Ps 79; Gal 2.15-20; Mt 21.28-32

Holiness is not doing great things, but obeying as children, namely free.


1) An order in love.

The Gospel passage that the liturgy offers on this 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time shows us how the Redeemer targets man in his real life and in the most intimate sphere of his family relationships. At the same time, however, Jesus offers a bond far superior to the affections of the natural family. Words like «father», «mother», «brother» in Christ take on a deeper and richer meaning. Christ, saying that we must «hate the father … the mother … the brother» (a formula that probably has an Aramaic influence that means loving God more than the natural father), does not destroy natural bonds. He puts them in order, giving them the correct hierarchy. St. Augustine comments as follows: «Christ has placed in you an order in love. Therefore, love the father but do not love him more than the Lord; love the one who generated you but no more than me who created you «. Christ does not ask to love God against one’s own father, mother, wife, husband, children, but to love them in him.

In a seemingly paradoxical way, the Redeemer teaches us that we are disciples is so far as we welcome love and will live this love. Today we hear the expression: «Whoever does not hate his own father and mother, woman, children and brothers, sisters and his own life cannot be my disciple». I believe that this Aramaic expression, that uses the verb «to hate», is a strong thing but it reminds us of what we know: what is the commandment? And what is the fundamental commandment? «You will love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your life, with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. Now, this commandment: «Whoever does not hate the father, the mother …» corresponds to the one that asks us to love God with all our heart …

After all, what is the positive commandment to love God with all your heart is expressed here in a negative way: if I love God with all my heart, I become like God and I will love others as well.

After all, it is the commandment of absolute love for God, which is then typical of the desire of man’s heart: to love in an infinite way. Only the Infinite can be loved in an infinite way, otherwise it becomes idolatry and we become slaves. The Absolute, the God of Christ, is the «God of the human heart» (St. Francis of Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, I, XV) and absolves us and truly makes us free because absolute Love gives meaning, sense (direction) and taste for freedom.

After all, whoever leaves his family, has no wife, has no husband and has no children, testifies that the absolute love of man is God. This is valid for any man.

In short, we must leave everything to have the Whole following Christ, who shows us that those who love don’t die, and that only love overcomes death. In fact, by loving one does not die, one lives in another or, better, one lives in God forever. God draws man to himself with bonds of love, that is, of true freedom: «for love has neither convicts nor slaves, but reduces everything under its own obedience with such a delightful force that, even if nothing is as strong as love, nothing is as lovable as its strength «(Ibid., book I, chap. VI).

To the many people who walk with Him because He is the meaning of life, Jesus addresses the invitation to break all human ties, even those with oneself (Lk 14: 25-26). The Evangelist Luke is meticulous and insistent in listing the bonds to be broken and, moreover, preserves in all his paradoxicality the Greek verb misein (to hate). Saint Matthew uses the Greek verb fileo1 which can be- I think – rightly translated as «to prefer». Saint Luke too, obviously, does not intend “to hate” in the true sense of the word. Placing the verb «hate» in its most proper meaning of to postpone and to subordinate, these words of Jesus keep their strength intact. He knows that parents must be loved and respected. For him too, this is not hating, but a detachment and a preference for the Kingdom. However, he has preserved the Greek verb misein which undoubtedly indicates a radical detachment. It is not just a question of breaking ties with the family and neither a generic detachment from oneself is enough. The example of Jesus is very concrete and precise: we must be willing to carry the cross (verse 27), that is to be ready for the effective and total self-giving. The parables of the tower and the king (14.28-32) teach that one must think well before throwing oneself into a business, one must calculate the possibilities and create the conditions that allow to complete it with success.

The following is not made for the superficial and for the unreflective, because before undertaking the task of following Jesus it is necessary to «calculate and reflect». This does not mean finding ways to escape the logic of the cross but finding ways to lead it to its extreme consequences. This is the calculation required from the disciple.

What does «calculating and reflecting» mean? Verse 33 tells us: «Anyone of you who will not renounce all his possessions, cannot be my disciple.» Only in detachment from goods it is possible to be a disciple and a total gift is possible. In the same way as to build a tower enough bricks and the money to buy them are required, so to follow Jesus it is necessary to be detached from goods.

In fact, one cannot love Good if his heart is attached to goods.

The difference between a Christian and a non-Christian lies precisely in this evaluation of sacrifice and life to the point of renouncing it, as the Psalm says: «Your grace is worth more than life».

Sacrifice is redemptive because it is the path that Christ has traveled to save us and that each of us must follow to reach his true home.

Sacrifice is educational because it prevents us from cradling the illusion that earthly life should last indefinitely; it prevents us from exchanging the miserable way of the pilgrim with the luminous and eternal happiness of the homeland.


2) Follow for love and without half measures.

To reach this homeland we must leave everything to have the Whole following Christ, who shows us that those who love don’t die and that only love overcomes death. In fact, by loving, one does not die, one lives in another or, better, one lives in God forever. Called to the exodus with Christ, the definitive Moses, Christians are required to fight half measures. Two half measures make a whole only in mathematics. Christ wants the full measure from us. Our most frequent sin is, I think, the sin of omission: it is not so much the evil that is done, but the good that is not done or, rather, the good that is done in half. In Christian life the sums of two half measures result in mediocrity2. This word is eloquent: it means the state of one who establishes himself in half measure, of one who serves two masters and who can only be lukewarm, but «God vomits the lukewarm» (Rev 3:16):

Following Christ is a «mortification» (= put to death) of what is transient in favor of a liberated and redeemed life. In Christianity renunciation is not an end in itself; it is always the way to open to others and to the Other par excellence. To go to the other, you must first come out of yourself.

Following Christ and walking with him requires going out of ourselves and of a way of living the tired and routine faith. In order to go after Jesus as he demands, the emotion of the heart is not enough but we must assume his logic of love which has as its vertex the Cross and, as a result, the Resurrection. The gift of life that Christ gave us was and is a gift that brings life forever.

To follow Christ is to dedicate oneself to prayer, in fact «prayer, by exercising the soul, unites it to God and makes it follow the vestiges of the crucified Christ; thus God makes of it another self, through desire, affection and union of love «(Saint Catherine of Siena, Dialogue of Divine Providence, chapter 1). With love (agape) God himself assures us of the continuity of his presence in us. The love of two beings makes one being.

Of this are witness the consecrated Virgins who offer the example of following Christ by abandoning themselves to the divine Providence in a spousal attitude. According to the Rite of their Consecration when the Bishop asks them «Do you want to follow Christ according to the Gospel so that your life appears as a testimony of love and a sign of the Kingdom of God?», «Do you want to be consecrated to the Lord Jesus Christ , the Son of the Most High God, and recognize him as a bridegroom«, they answer» Yes, we do «(RCV 17).

In fact, virginal consecration implies an unlimited confidence in the Son of God. «Whoever gives himself completely to God does not fear to abandon all human things to devote himself solely to divine things, to dedicate himself completely to God, to seek his Kingdom and his justice, to clear from his heart all the earthly affections, in a word, to follow Christ and cling to the blessed nakedness of his cross, on that dying to the earth, and living only for heaven: where his treasure is, there is also his heart ”(Antonio Rosmini, Maxims of Christian perfection, lesson V).

1 The verb philéô means «to love» in the sense of «loving each other, having somebody dear, treating with affection, kissing (among friends), welcoming a guest». Philéô was the verb that expressed the idea of ​​»affection between friends» (the noun philós in fact means in Greek «friend»). With philéô we indicated an interpersonal relationship based on equality, on affinity within a community, a city, a race. In fact, as an adjective, philós means «dear» and was used in the relationship between parents and children or between brothers. The verb philéô occurs 9 times in John, 5 times in Matthew, 1 time in Mark, 2 times in Luke; 2 times in the Epistles. In the sense of «having dear, having affection» Jesus sometimes uses this verb in relation to Lazarus and John (Jn 11, 3, 36; 20,2), thus revealing a particular tenderness and preference.

The verb agapáô means «to love» in the sense of «having dear, cherishing, preferring»: it is used to indicate love for God, Christ, justice or neighbor. Compared to philéô, the verb agapáô has a lower affective or, better to say, emotional nuance and expresses a movement of ideal benevolence, a type of love that starts from the top or turns upwards. In the Latin of the Vulgate the verb agapáô is translated with díligo. Agapáô occurs 37 times in John, 13 times in Luke, 8 times in Matthew, 5 times in Mark; it is also found 25 times in the Letters of John. In the discourse of the Last Supper, reported in John’s Gospel, Christ always uses this verb: «As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you» (15: 9), «love one another» (15:18) , up to that last prayer (Jn 17) in which the Christ, giving himself completely to men, says: «And I made known to them your name and I will make it known, because the love with which you loved me is in them and I in them ”.

The difference between the love expressed by philéô and that expressed by agapáô – difference in reality unknown to the Greeks of the classical era – is particularly clear from the chapter 21 (15-17) of John, where Christ asks Peter three times the question: «Do you love me?» In reality the first and second questions bear the verb agapáô:

«After having lunch, Jesus says to Simon Peter:» Simon of John, do you love me (agapas) you more than these? «He replies:» Yes, Lord, you know that I love you (philô). : «Feed my lambs.» He tells him for the second time: «Simon of John, do you love me (agapas) you?» He replies: «Yes, O Lord, you know that I love you (philô)». He tells him: «Feed my flock.» He tells him for the third time: «Simon of John, do you love me (phileîs)?» «.The third time Christ uses the verb philéô because, before Pentecost, the apostles, including Peter, still lived love according to relations of blood, or according to group or family affinity: they perceived the value of «love» according to the connotation expressed by the verb philéô. Only after Pentecost, when the flame of Christic love descends upon them, will the apostles fully understand the universal value of agápê, so much so that Paul will be able to speak of it in the «Hymn to charity» (1 Cor 13: 1-8 ).

2 Mediocrity is a word that indicates, for example, 1. The intermediate position between two extremes; 2. The modest quality or lack of a thing: mediocrity of goods; 3. The modest quality of a person, who, therefore, is qualified as mediocre.

With the invitation to put our heart in God so that in Him we will love our neighbor.

Don Franco 


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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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