Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: New life – Gift of the God of the Living

With the wish to understand that to believe in the resurrection of the body to believe that our vocation is to a vocation to life now and forever

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Roman rite

XXXII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – November 10, 2019

2 Mc 7, 1-2. 9-14; Ps 17; 2 Thes 2.16-3.5; Lk 20, 27-38

1) Death is a new birth. We can compare it to the delivery that gives birth

Today the liturgy of the word of God confronts us with the truth of faith of the resurrection. As we say in the Creed: «We await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come». Many do not believe in this truth and, in Jesus’ the time, it was precisely the Sadducees who did not believe in the final resurrection and who made fun of it with Jesus who gave them a clear answer, which we will see in the second paragraph. On this first point, I propose some preliminary reflections.

Pope Francis reminds us that believing in the resurrection of the flesh changes not only the moment of our death but changes all our lives: «If we could have this reality more present, we would be less tired from everyday life, less prisoners of the «ephemeral, and more willing to walk with a merciful heart on the path to salvation». To the question, which we all ask ourselves, on what it means to resurrect, the Holy Father insists that God truly «will restore life to our body by uniting it with the soul … Our bodies will be transfigured into glorious bodies.» This is not a lie! We believe that Jesus is risen, that Jesus is alive now. If Jesus is alive, do you think he will let us die and not raise us up? No! He awaits us, and because He is risen, the strength of his resurrection will raise all of us «. And he added: «The transfiguration of our body is prepared in this life by the relationship with Jesus, in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We, who in this life have been nourished by his Body and his Blood, will rise again like Him, with Him and through Him ». And «through Baptism … we already participate in the new life, which is his life… We have in ourselves a seed of resurrection, as a foretaste of the full resurrection that we will inherit … The body of each one of us is a resonance of eternity, so it must always be respected ». These considerations remind us of responsibility, but together they give us hope «We are on the way to the resurrection. See Jesus, meet Jesus: this is our joy! We will all be together – not here in Saint Peter’s square or somewhere else – but joyful with Jesus. This is our destiny! «. It is a destiny of life given to us by God. In today’s Gospel, but also in the one of Matthew and Mark, Jesus proves the fact of the Resurrection by saying: God is the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob (see Mt 22, 31-32; Mk 12.26-27; Lk 20.37-38) that God gives us. He is not God of the dead. If God is the God of these people, they are alive. Those who are written in the name of God participate in the life of God, they live. Believing is being inscribed in the name of God. We are alive. Those who belong to the name of God are not dead, they belong to the living God. In this sense, we should understand the dynamism of faith, which is to inscribe our name in the name of God and thus enter life. Let’s raise to Christ the prayer for this to happen, for really know God through our lives, for our name to enter the name of God and our existence become true life: eternal life, love, and truth.

2) Life is not taken away from us, but it is transformed

In today’s gospel, some Sadducees[1] go to Jesus (Lk 20:27-38) to challenge him against the Bible, but, perhaps, also because their hearts were attracted to Jesus. Everybody approaches Him even if with different intents. In today’s liturgy the affiliates to this religious movement, in order to defend their interpretation of the Bible, ask an important question regarding the resurrection from the dead. The case in question concerns a woman who had married seven brothers. One after the other the husbands had died, and she had no children[2]. This widow, who had been taken and left alone seven times, was not only barren but was condemned to an uncertain and sterile life. The conclusion of the Sadducees is ironic and terrible “You say that there is resurrection.  What will happen to this woman? She had seven husbands. Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”

With patience typical of the ones who love, Jesus answers widening the perspective and taking them little by little to the logic of Life. The criterions of earthly life cannot be applied to life in the otherworld because the difference is substantial. “Is not a matter of food and drink, but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit(see Rm 14:17). The dimension where “on every instant gravitates the Eternal” (Ada Negri) changes completely.  “Man’s greatness, his glory, and his majesty are knowing what it is truly great, attaching to it and asking glory from the Lord of glory” (see Saint Basil the Great – Homily 20- chapter 3).

In his answer Jesus quotes the Bible, but surprisingly he quotes Exodus 3:6 which is a text on God not on the resurrection “That the dead will rise even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when he called out ‘Lord, ‘ the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” Where is the proof that the dead will rise? If God describes himself “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” and he is a God of the living not of the dead, then that means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are alive somewhere even if, when God speaks of them to Moses, they have been dead for a long time.

In his answer to the Sadducees, Jesus takes the opportunity also to correct the belief of those Pharisees who understood the resurrection in material terms exposing themselves to the irony of the liberals. It is the same irony we find in today’s Gospel “A woman had seven husbands, at resurrection whose wife will she be?”. Jesus says that the life of the dead is not like the one on earth; it is a different life because it is divine and eternal. We could compare it to the one of the angels (see Lk 20:36).

The angels[3] are not the gentle and evanescent creatures we imagine. In the Bible they have the power of God, a dynamism that goes above, rises, enters and flies in light, love, and beauty. Their duty is to guard, to illuminate, to govern and to make love beautiful. The angels that perpetually contemplate God, are the ones to whom the celestial pity has given custody of us. They illuminate us, protect us constantly in our life, and guide us along the Master’s ways toward the everlasting home. We are called to angelical life now, here and for eternity.

The ephemeral[4] becomes eternal. With his Cross, Christ didn’t get rid of the ephemeral in order to “escape“ to eternity but has put the seed of eternity in the world to let the Kingdom of God grow and to introduce angelic life into the world.

3) The angelic life of the consecrated life

Before saying how the consecrated life is an angelic life and transforms the ephemeral into eternity, I’d like to point out that the ones who claim that matrimony has no consequences in heaven make a wrong interpretation of Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees. By stating that “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Lk 20:34-35), Jesus rejects the spoofy idea that the Sadducees present of the otherworld, as if it were a simple continuation of the earthly relationship between spouses, and doesn’t rule out that they could find in God the union that united them on earth.[5]

Besides the family, there is another “place” that is a school of love: consecrated life that “teaches” by transforming the existence of the consecrated people into a pure hymn to the Lord like the life of the saints and of the angels. To make this happen it is necessary to tune the harp and to gain purity of heart. The consecrated persons do so with the vow and the practice of chastity. Nature demands that man writes something eternal on something that is ephemeral. Through the Eucharistic the ephemeral bread and wine become eternal.

The same happens in the virginal consecration. When the virgins consecrate, their ideal” truly lofty in itself, demands no special external change. Each consecrated person normally remains in her own life context. It is a way that seems to lack the specific characteristics of religious life, and above all that of obedience. For you, however, love becomes the sequel: your charisma entails a total gift to Christ, an assimilation of the Bridegroom who implicitly asks for the observance of the evangelical counsels in order to keep your fidelity to him unstained (cf. RCV, n. 26). …. I urge you to go beyond external appearances, experiencing the mystery of God’s tenderness which each one of you bears in herself and recognizing one another as sisters, even in your diversity” (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants in the International Congress -Pilgrimage of the Ordo Virginum, Thursday, May 15, 2008) Doing so they testify that the tender grace of God is worth more than life (see Ps 62/53, 4)



Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Exposition on Psalm 66


  1. This Psalm hath on the title the inscription, «For the end, a song of a Psalm of Resurrection.» When ye hear «for the end,» whenever the Psalms are repeated, understand it «for Christ:» the Apostle saying, «For the end of the law is Christ, for righteousness to everyone believing.» In what manner therefore here Resurrection is sung, ye wilt hear, and whose Resurrection it is, as far as Himself deigneth to give and disclose. For the Resurrection we Christians know already hath come to pass in our Head, and in the members it is to be. The Head of the Church is Christ? the members of Christ are the Church. That which hath preceded in the Head, will follow in the Body. This is our hope; for this we believe, for this we endure and persevere amid so great perverseness of this world, hope comforting us, before that hope becometh reality . . . . The Jews did hold the hope of the resurrection of the dead: and they hoped that themselves alone would rise again to a blessed life because of the work of the Law, and because of the justifications of the Scriptures, which the Jews alone had, and the Gentiles had not. Crucified was Christ, «blindness in part happened unto Israel, in order that the fulness of the Gentiles might enter in:» as the Apostle saith. The resurrection of the dead beginneth to be promised to the Gentiles also that believe in Jesus Christ, that He hath risen again. Thence this Psalm is against the presumption and pride of the Jews, for the comfort of the Gentiles that are to be called to the same hope of resurrection.                                 

[1] The Sadducees were a very important spiritual movement of Judaism but also a political group of the aristocratic old families among whom the priests and above all the High Priest were selected. They tried to live an enlightened Judaism so to find a compromise with the Roman power.

We don’t know much about the Sadducees and their spirituality because their party, believed guilty of collaborationism with the Romans, was exterminated during the Judaic rebellion of the first century BC. On the doctrinal ground it is believed that they, unlike the Pharisees, believed as binding only the so called Written Law that is what has been written in the first five books of the Bible (Torah).  The Pharisees on the contrary maintained that the Oral Law, that is the interpretation of the Torah transmitted orally, had the same importance.

Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead. However it is legitimate to doubt that they had a position of total preclusion because that would be in contrast with the content of the Written Law, and because the archeological evidence of their burial methods confirms the belief in the existence of an otherworld.

[2] For the Jews to be childless was considered a true shame (see Lk 1”25) and a punishment from God.

[3] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) affirms the existence of the Angels as “truth of faith” testified by the Bible and by Tradition (CCC # 328). They were created from nothing, as stated by the IV Lateran Council in the year 1215 (CCC # 327). The CCC specifies the identity of the Angels: they are spiritual creatures, with intelligence and will and are superior to the visible creatures (CCC # 330). The Angels’ mission is to be servants and messengers of God and powerful executors of his commands (CCC # 331).  Let’s not forget the relationship of the Angels with the mystery of Christ ”Christ is the center of the angelic world” (CCC #331) The Angels together with the entire creation have been created  through Him and by Him and are messengers of His design of salvation (CCC 331). The CCC outlines a biblical catechesis on angels and on their mission in the Old and in the New Testament. The episodes choses from the Old testament ( CCC # 332) speaks about the Cherubim that after the expulsion of man , look after the garden of Eden and the tree of life (Genesis 3:24); the Angels that protect Lot( Genesis 19) ; the Angel that saves Agar and her child thirsty and lost in the desert ( Genesis 21;17); the one who stops Abraham’s hand ready to kill Isaac( Genesis 22:11-12); the Angel that guides the people in the desert( Ex 23:20-23); the one who announces the birth of Samson( Gdc 13); the one who announces the vocation of Gideon( Gdc 6:11-24); the Angel that gives bread and water to the running frightened Elijah ( 1Kings 19:5-7). The episodes choses in the New Testament mention above all Gabriel who announces the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus (CCC #3320. Let’s remember also the angels that sing at Jesus’ birth, protect his infancy, serve him in the desert, comfort him in agony, announce the good news of the resurrection and will serve him on the last day (CCC #3330.

For a good and concise presentation see Angels in Dictionary of Theology (Rom 2006 – Edited under the direction of Jean-Yves Lacoste).

[4] Ephemeral is an adjective (from the Latin ephimerus) that indicates what last only one day or what has a short duration: celebrity, glory, ephemeral greatness, illusions, hopes, material goods.

[5] To this regard Father Raniero Cantalamessa OFM, preacher of the Pontifical House writes: “How is it possible that the spouses after a life that was linked to God in the miracle of the creation could in the eternal life not have anything in common as if everything were lost and forgotten? Would not that be in contrast with Christ’s word that man cannot divide what God has united? If God has united them on earth, how could He divide them in heaven? How could a life lived together end in nothing without denying the meaning of the earthly life that is to prepare the coming of the kingdom, new sky and new earth?” It is the Bible – not only the natural desire of the spouses- to sustain this hope. Matrimony, says the Bible, is “great sacrament” because it represents the union between Christ and the Church (Eph 5:32). How could it be possible that it would be cancelled precisely in the heavenly Jerusalem, where the eternal nuptial banquet between Christ and the Church, of which it is the image, is celebrated?

According to this vision matrimony doesn’t end with dead but is transformed, made spiritual, taken away from all the limits that characterize life on earth. In the same way all the links between parents and children or among friends are not forgotten. In the preface of the Mass for the dead the liturgy says that with death” life is transformed not taken away’. The same must be said regarding matrimony that is an essential part of life.

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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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