Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: God is Freedom, Joy, Love, Gift and Mercy

With the wish to understand that mercy is a gift to receive and to share.

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Roman Rite

XXIV Sunday in Ordinary Time- Year C- September 15, 2019

Ex 32: 7-11, 13-14; Ps 51; 1 Tm 12-17; Lk 15:1-32

God seeks us to give us mercy


Ambrosian Rite

Third Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom

Is 43:24c-44,3; Ps 32; Heb 11:39-12:4; Jh 5:25-36

Christ’s actions testify that the Father has send Him


1) Sought by the Son as sinners and accepted by the Father as children in the Spirit

As a premise for the reflections on the three parables of mercy of today’s Gospel (the one of the lost sheep, the one of the lost coin and the one of the prodigal son), I’d like to propose this interpretation: each of us is the beloved lost sheep, the useful lost coin and the son who, in addition to throwing away the inheritance of the Father, has thrown away himself. The important thing is to understand that God seeks each of us. If we understand that each of us is loved and free in God, instead of running away, we will run towards him.

All three parables end speaking of happiness and joy because «there will be joy in heaven for one sinner who is converted rather than for ninety-nine just«. From what does this happiness of God come? From the love shared in a profound divine communion in the Trinity and in the love of mercy towards us, fragile creatures of clay, that the creative «hands» of God recreate paternally embracing us and welcoming us as children (adoptive, but true children) loved by Him whose «name is mercy» (Pope Francis whose magisterium on mercy is plentiful. Allow me to advise the reading of his Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera, of November 20, 2016).

Listening to today’s Gospel it almost seems to hear the voice of Jesus who reveals to us the face of his and our Father. He came into the world for this: to talk to us about the Father of infinite mercy, to make him known to us, lost children, and to revive in our hearts the joy of belonging to him, the hope of being forgiven and returned to our full dignity, and  the desire to live forever in his home which is also our home and place of joy.

Indeed, thanks to his mercy we can enter the joy of the Kingdom of God. Let us share this mercy. Let us be craftsmen of consolation and peace growing in the awareness that Jesus watches over us with infinite compassion.

This compassion makes the Good Shepherd act with passion chasing his sheep in steppes and in stony ground. If we lose him, he never loses us. It is not the lost sheep that finds the shepherd, but it is she who is found. The sheep is not returning to the fold but is moving away from it. The shepherd does not punish the sheep, she is alive and that is enough. The shepherd loads the sheep on his back so that the return is less tiring. It is a beautiful image: God does not look at our guilt but at our weakness. He does not write final balances but estimates. God is a friend of life: Jesus heals the blind lame lepers not for them to become good observers. So much the better if it happens, but for them to become full, happy, fulfilled people, men finally promoted to men. Mercy is a gift and a forgiveness that transform our lives bringing it to fullness.

2) Good Shepherd’s mercy

In addition to giving his profound and beautiful teaching, Jesus’ parables show God’s point of view. This is what happens in today’s parables where Christ tells about the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son underlining the “heart of the Gospel” that is merciful love.

Already in the first parable, we can see a behavior that is not human, or better, senseless from a human point of view. To the question “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it?” (Lk 15:4) we would respond “No one”. Which man of sense would leave 99 sheep alone in the desert and go after the lost one despite the danger of the desert at night?

The desert’s dangers are hunger, thirst, robbers, beasts, and loosing orientation in the darkness of the night, which makes it almost impossible to carry on the search. Christ the divine good shepherd is moved by a love that is humanly senseless but divinely logical. Therefore, he goes in search of us.

God continues the search for us from the time when man has hidden himself in the Garden of Eden and down into the netherworld. For Him, we have more value than himself so much so that He died for us.

We could say that our search for God starts when God had finished his, forgiving us and celebrating with us.

In the parable of the lost and found sheep, it is underlined that the shepherd doesn’t stop his search until the sheep is found. It is an obstinate and unflinching search and the shepherd is determined not to leave the sheep to its destiny. We understand that the shepherd’s decision was not senseless, on the contrary, it was a courageous one being born out of a courageous intelligence and of a heart that loves intensively.

This allows me to point out that this parable, like the two others, ends speaking of the joy of God for having found the sheep, the coin and the son “there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  (Lk 15:10)

Here, we can find two teachings. The first one is clear: to God’s eyes, man has a limitless value even and because he is a sinner. The second one is implicit:  divine Joy “grows” with the found glory of just one sinner.

3) Maternal mercy

Similar in essence is the second parable, the one of the lost drachma[1].

Here too the search for what has been lost is carried out in a methodical way. The woman lights the lamp and puts it in the best position, then sweeps slowly and with a lot of attention[2] the entire house, and searches with care until she finds the lost coin. When she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors so that they can rejoice with her for the “coin lost and found”. If in the first parable that narrates of the Shepherd (that in the Jewish world meant also the King) we can see the » pastoral” love of the one who guides, in the second parable we see the “eager” love of the mother that turns upside-down the “world» to search for the “treasure[3]” that is the reason of her life, her son.

A woman, a mother, very well know the value of a son and, in this parable, we see that she represents God who with infinite motherly and paternal love, “does his utmost” to search the precious lost coin.

We find an example of this in the consecrated Virgins. They are called to motherly “do the utmost of themselves” begging forgiveness for the sinners, offering their prayer in intercession (RCV 28) for the lost ones, above all for the ones who have lost faith in the divine mercy, and taking the everlasting forgiving love of God where they live and work.

4) Paternal mercy

Here is the third parable. If for a coin and for a sheep there is celebration in heaven, you can very well imagine how happy is God when the ‘found one’ is a man, a lost and found son.

This son, called prodigal because he has wasted the paternal inheritance and now is extremely poor and hungry. He is ‘lost’. He has lost the knowledge of the beauty of his identity. He has lost the joyful memory of the father’s face and of his mercy. This page of the Gospel is an announcement that carries joy for us: when we feel of being ‘lost’, let’s give ourselves to the one who is searching for us and let’s trust his great love. This is the Father’s will. We are precious to His eyes.

In this context we understand the meaning of the reading from the Exodus (Roman Rite): the people of Israel, liberated from slavery, often forget God up to the point of “making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it and sacrificing to it.” For this, they should deserve God’s punishment, but the master forgives them because of the moving and profound prayer of intercession of Moses. In the same way, the apostle Paul (second reading) states that Jesus was born to save sinners. He feels himself a big sinner… however, he was pardoned.

Mercy is the expression of the omnipotence and of the infinite, tender, adult, caring and demanding the love of God: it is God’s image.

Let’s use often to the sacrament of Reconciliation that is the coming home of the prodigal son.

The experience of sin that is “to be lost” becomes the occasion for a more lasting and truer encounter with the God who “persecutes”[i][4]us with his merciful love and rejoices because he has found us.

Patristic Reading

                                                                              Leo the Great[5]

Sermo 46

And so, dearly-beloved, when in reading or hearing the Gospel you find certain things in our Lord Jesus Christ subjected to injuries and certain things illumined by miracles, in such a way that in the same Person now the Humanity appears, and now the Divinity shines out, do not put down any of these things to a delusion, as if in Christ there is either Manhood alone or Godhead alone, but believe both faithfully, worship both right humbly; so that in the union of the Word and the Flesh there may be no separation, and the bodily proofs may not seem delusive, because the divine signs were evident in Jesus. The attestations to both natures in Him are true and abundant, and by the depth of the Divine purpose, all concur to this end, that the inviolable Word not being separated from the passible flesh, the Godhead may be understood as in all things partaker with the flesh and flesh with the Godhead. And, therefore, must the Christian mind that would eschew lies and be the disciple of truth, use the Gospel-story confidently, and, as if still in company with the Apostles themselves, distinguish what is visibly done by the Lord, now by the spiritual understanding and now by the bodily organs of sight. Assign to the man that He is born a boy of a woman: assign to God that His mother’s virginity is not harmed, either by conception or by bearing. Recognize “the form of a slave” enwrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, but acknowledge that it was the Lord’s form that was announced by angels, “proclaimed by the elements,” adored by the wise men. Understand it of His humanity that he did not avoid the marriage feast: confess it Divine that he turned water into wine. Let your own feelings explain to you why He shed tears over a dead friend: let His Divine power be realized, when that same friend, after moldering in the grave four days, is brought to life and raised only by the command of His voice. To make clay with spittle and earth was a work of the body: but to anoint therewith and enlighten the eyes of the blind is an undoubted mark of that power which had reserved for the revelation of its glory that which it had not allowed to the early part of His natural life. It is truly human to relieve bodily fatigue with rest in sleep: but it is truly Divine to quell the violence of raging storms by a rebuking command. To set food before the hungry denotes human kindness and a philanthropic spirit: but with five loaves and two fishes to satisfy 5,000 men, besides women and children, who would dare deny that to be the work of Deity? A Deity which, by the co-operation of the functions of true flesh, showed not only itself in Manhood, but also Manhood in itself; for the old, original wounds in man’s nature could not be healed, except by the Word of God taking to Himself flesh from the Virgin’s womb, whereby in one and the same Person flesh and the Word co-existed.

This belief in the Lord’s Incarnation, dearly-beloved, through which the whole Church is Christ’s body, hold firm with heart unshaken and abstain from all the lies of heretics, and remember that your works of mercy will only then profit you, and your strict continence only then bear fruit, when your minds are unsoiled by any defilement from wrong opinions. Cast away the arguments of this world’s wisdom, for God hates them, and none can arrive by them at the knowledge of the Truth, and keep fixed in your mind that which you say in the Creed. Believe the Son of God to be co-eternal with the Father by Whom all things were made and without Whom nothing was made, born also according to the flesh at the end of the times. Believe Him to have been in the body crucified, dead, raised up, and lifted above the heights of heavenly powers, set on the Father’s right hand, about to come in the same flesh in which He ascended, to judge the living and the dead. For this is what the Apostle proclaims to all the faithful, saying: “if you be risen with Christ seek the things which are above, where Christ is sitting on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. For when Christ, our life, shall appear, then shall you also appear with Him in glory Colossians 3:1-4 .”

[1] A drachma was the daily salary of a farmer or a laborer at Jesus’ time

[2] From the ancient Greek ἐπιμελῶς , which must be read epimelòs and that means” with care, with attention

[3] Seen with the eyes of God Earth is not a big a house if compared with the entire Universe.

[4] From the Latin verb” persequi”, made of “per” and “sequi”( to follow), = to keep going after  somebody  or something with perseverance and fervor

[5] The first Bishop of Rome to bear the name of Leo, later adopted by twelve Supreme Pontiffs, is also the first Pope whose preaching, addressed to the people who gathered around him during the celebrations, we know.

One episode from the life of St. Leo the Great has remained famous. It dates to 452 AC, when the Pope in Mantua, together with a Roman delegation, met Attila, head of the Huns, and dissuaded him from continuing the war of invasion with which he had already devastated the north-eastern regions of Italy. Leo saved the rest of the Peninsula. This important event soon became memorable and remains as an emblematic sign of the peace action carried out by this Pope.

We are aware of this Pope’s actions thanks to his beautiful sermons and his letters, about one hundred and fifty. In these texts, the Pontiff appears in all his greatness addressed to the service of truth in charity through an assiduous exercise of the word, which at the same time shows him as a theologian and a pastor. Leo the Great, constantly caring about his faithful and the people of Rome but also about the communion between the different Churches and their needs, was a tireless supporter and promoter of the Roman primacy, proposing himself as the authentic heir of the apostle Peter. Of this the numerous Bishops, mostly from the East, gathered in the Council of Chalcedon (451 AC) were aware.

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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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