Archbishop Follo: The Gospel does not anticipate the last things, it reveals the ultimate meaning of things

With the invitation to live the waiting of Christ as mendicancy of his mercy.

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Roman rite

XXXIII Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year C – November 17, 2019

Mal 3, 19-20; Ps 98; 2 Ts 3, 7-12; Lk 21, 5-19

Fidelity in the expectation lived as advent of Christ


 Ambrosian rite

 First Sunday of Advent [1]

Is 51, 4-8; Ps 49; 2Ts 2,1-14; Mt 24.1-31

Advent: waiting time for God’s tenderness.



At the end of the liturgical year, on this penultimate Sunday, the word of God, above all in the Gospel, makes us reflect on the end of the world and on the second and final coming of Christ on earth to judge the living and the dead. This coming has always been seen as imminent in time frames, marked by seers or other figures who say they can foresee the future. This because of dramatic events that are related to natural phenomena and to human behavior, such as wars or earthquakes, that have been relevant in the past months. Jesus warns us of the easy prophecies that speak of the end of the world.

In fact, this Sunday’s Gospel passage is about the beginning of Jesus’ discourse on the end of time.

The Gospel of Luke tells us that there is no relationship between the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem and the end of the world, as believed by Jews and his contemporaries. This gospel announces that, before the consummation of centuries, Jesus’ disciples must face many persecutions, which, if overcome, become a guarantee of salvation because they highlight the constancy of faith that is necessary in all circumstances and moments of history. Even if many things collapse, remaining steadfast in the Lord is what never disappoints.

  • The question is to understand what to do now, not to know what will happen at the end

Reading the text of today’s Gospel (Luke 21:5-19), it is easy to think almost exclusively of the events of the end of the world that will also be the end of human history: the end of the world, the victory of the Lord and the last judgment. However, the aim of Jesus’ speech is not to satisfy the curiosity of those who want to know how the “otherworld” will be, but to enlighten the present world. Listening to these words allows the disciple to “see” the ephemeral world as a “sign” of a reality that lasts forever. Jesus, his person and his word are the key to interpret this reality and history. He is the Son of God who became man, he is the incarnate Word, he is the passing fragility and the everlasting life. “He is the new Temple[2] in a new place where we encounter God” (Benedict XVI), and he is the Love that on the Cross is revealed as passion and compassion.

Thanks to Christ, the Cross is no longer a sad instrument of death but a splendid throne irradiating Love. The Cross of Jesus is the most intense moment of the revelation of the meaning of all that exists. It is the most dramatic point of obscurity, of fragility and of nonsense, but it is also the moment of the most intense light and fulfillment of the life that is resurrected and that wins over death. The cross of Jesus is the revelation that the final meaning of everything is Love, the love that humbles itself, that dies to become true love and that empties to become the greatest gift.

  • Love is the truest meaning of this world that passes and dies to be able to enter the infinity of the Love that never ends.

We don’t know how the “otherworld” will be, but we know that it will be the fullness of love that is already the life of this world.

Jesus invites his disciples (that is us) not to be attached to what passes, not to have illusions, and not to have idols, but to live intensely the “daily life” by beginning to taste the love that will never end and that will become bigger and bigger. To live love, to free and to expand the field of love, is the message of Jesus through his eschatological[3] speech: only Love lasts forever.

This is the reason why the Redeemer invites to “walk in charity” (expression used to indicate the Spiritual Exercises written by Saint Ignatius of Loyola and recalled by Pope Francis).

Let’s not forget that charity is not just being charitable to the poor by giving them money or other material help. Charity is also to grow in the Christian hope, in the link of fraternal love and in steady faith. (1 John 2:14). The via amoris dolorosa (the path of love in the complete donation of oneself) that is the Via Crucis, is for the Christian the way that takes him to the complete identification with Christ. To this regard, Saint Clare of Assisi said of Saint Francis who was in love with Christ: “He loves him to the point of resembling even physically to Him” and asked herself “Will I be able to do the same?”

The life of this Saint Nun shows that it is possible to resemble Christ if one puts himself at His school of charity and walks always behind the for-so-long-waited Loved One. (I mean to use “to wait” in the original meaning of “to reach to”, “to search for.”)

In conclusion, we “wait for” the Lord:

– Looking for him. Regarding the search for God, very clear is an apothegm[4] of the Fathers of the desert that says: “A man in search of God asked a Christian “How can I find God?” The Christian replied, “I’ll show you”. He took him on the seashore and plunged his face three times in the water. Then he asked him “What did you want most when your face was in the water?” “Air” “When you’ll desire God as much as you have desired air, you’ll find Him,” said the Christian.

– Persevering in His love. “As love is strong in the great difficulties, so it is perseverant in the gray, boring daily life. One thing is necessary to please God: to do even the small things for love” (Saint Faustina Kowalska)

– Testifying His truth and not fantasizing about the end of the world

We find an example of this testimony in the Consecrated Virgins. The virginal consecration grows in them an attitude of trust in the world and in humanity, and a way of listening to history and to the human problems that unit these women, through their way of working and living, to every man and woman. These Virgins become companions in the journey, instruments of communion and witnesses of love.

These consecrated women participate in the creative doing of God through their work that allows them to provide for their living and to be open to sharing.

With their life they give voice to the invocation of the Spirit and of the Church, “‘Maranatha’, come Lord Jesus” (Wis 22:20) keeping alive a vigilant and prophetic[5] waiting.

The consecrated Virgins recall the desire of God to the men and the women of their time, and they show how God today is present in history and redeems it.                                                      

                                                            Patristic Reading

                           St Augustine of Hyppo -Exposition on Psalm 121

  1. …Let them “lift up their eyes to the hills whence comes their help” (ver. 1).

What means, The hills have been lightened? The San of righteousness has already risen, the Gospel has been already preached by the Apostles, the Scriptures have been preached, all the mysteries have been laid open, the veil has been rent, the secret place of the temple has been revealed: let them now at length lift their eyes up to the hills, whence their help cometh…”Of His fulness have all we received,” John 1:16 he says. Your help therefore is from Him, of whose fulness the hills received, not from the hills; towards which, nevertheless, save thou lift your eyes through the Scriptures, you will not approach, so as to be lighted by Him.

  1. Sing therefore what follows; if thou wish to hear how you may most securely set your feet on the steps, so that you may not be fatigued in that ascent, nor stumble and fall: pray in these words: “Suffer not my foot to be moved!” (ver. 3).

Whereby are feet moved; whereby was the foot of him who was in Paradise moved? But first consider whereby the feet of him who was among the Angels were moved: who when his feet were moved fell, and from an Angel became a devil: for when his feet were moved he fell. Seek whereby he fell: he fell through pride. 

Nothing then moves the feet, save pride: nothing moves the feet to a fall, save pride. Charity moves them to walk and to improve and to ascend; pride moves them to fall … 

Rightly therefore the Psalmist, hearing how he may ascend and may not fall, prays unto God that he may profit from the vale of misery, and may not fail in the swelling of pride, in these words, “Suffer not my feet to be moved!” And He replies unto him, “Let him that keeps you not sleep.” Attend, my beloved. 

It is as if one thought were expressed in two sentences; the man while ascending and singing “the song of degrees,” says, “Suffer not my foot to be moved:” and it is as if God answered, You say unto Me, Let not my feet be moved: say also, “Let Him that keeps you not sleep,” and your foot shall not be moved.

  1. Choose for yourself Him, who will neither sleep nor slumber, and your foot shall not be moved. 

God is never asleep: if thou dost wish to have a keeper who never sleeps, choose God for your keeper. “Suffer not my feet to be moved,” you say, well, very well: but He also says unto you, “Let not him that keeps you slumber.” 

Thou perhaps wast about to turn yourself unto men as your keepers, and to say, whom shall I find who will not sleep? what man will not slumber? whom do I find? whither shall I go? whither shall I return? The Psalmist tells you: “He that keeps Israel, shall neither slumber nor sleep” (ver. 4). 

Do you wish to have a keeper who neither slumbers nor sleeps? Behold, “He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep:” for Christ keeps Israel. Be thou then Israel. 

What means Israel? It is interpreted, Seeing God. 

And how is God seen? First by faith: afterwards by sight. If you can not as yet see Him by sight, see Him by faith… 

Who is there, who will neither slumber nor sleep? when you seek among men, you are deceived; you will never find one. Trust not then in any man: every man slumbers, and will sleep. 

When does he slumber? When he bears the flesh of weakness. When will he sleep? When he is dead. Trust not then in man. A mortal may slumber, he sleeps in death. Seek not a keeper among men.


[1]  The Ambrosian Advent begins with the first vespers of the Sunday immediately following November 11, the feast of Saint Martin, and this is the reason why it also takes the name of Lent of Saint Martin. It doesn’t last four weeks, as in the Roman Rite, but six weeks. It ends with the feriae de Exceptato («Holidays of the Welcomed») which essentially constitute the Christmas novena. The Sunday before Christmas is called the Sunday of the Incarnation; in it the priest wears white vestments. In Ambrosian territory the blessing of the houses is done during this period, while in the «Roman» land it is made in the pascal period.

[2] Etymologically, the word «TEMPLE» descends from the Latin «TEMPLUM», in turn derived from «TEM-LO», an ancient Indo-European root word meaning «to cut». «TEM-LO» is akin to the Greek «TéMNO», having the same meaning, from which «TéMENOS», which means «sacred enclosure». In summary, the etymology of the word «TEMPLE» is to designate an area, a portion of space cut out of the world, fenced and destined to host a superhuman presence, a special place dedicated to the worship of God. The expression is taken up in the most recent parts of the Bible known as the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Bible) and it is a translation of the Hebrew terms qāhāl and ‛ēdāh, with the sense of» assembly «of the Jewish people, a religious and political assembly at the same time . It is therefore in the Septuagint that the term ἐκκλησία begins to take on a specifically «cultic and juridical» meaning. The writers of the New Testament did not derive this term from the use made in Greece, but from the biblical text of the Seventy.

The Temple is the house of God. By dwelling among his people, God makes himself present to his faithful. In the library world the temple occupies the center of religious and national life and enjoys a strong symbolic charge. Therefore, the end of the Temple of Jerusalem, the place of God and the principle of life, is a symbol of the end of the world.

The Temple for the Christian is the Body of Christ and is also the Church, the assembly of the faithful. The term Church, in the Italian and French languages, comes ​​from the Latin ecclesĭa, which in turn comes from the classical Greek ἐκκλησία (ekklēsía). In classical Greek, ἐκκλησία was intended as a political, military or civil assembly.

[3] Eschatology (with the adjective eschatological) means discourse (logos) on the last things (eschaton), on death and on eternal life. About the eschatological dimension of the Church we can synthetically say that the Church contains in germ what, through the passage of men and the cosmos, will reach full and definitive maturation in the eternal life. The beatific vision of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit will be the reward of those who in everyday life, often imbued with suffering, tried to welcome the Word of God by living it.

[4] Apoftegma (or apotegma, in Greek αποφθεγμα) is a noun of Greek origin whose meaning is to be traced in relation to the verbs apophthénghesthai, which means «to pronounce a sentence», or apophtheggomai which means «to enunciate a definitive answer». The word, therefore, assumes the meaning of «sentence», «maxim» and it is used for a phrase or sentence of an aphoristic type that carries in extreme synthesis a profound and, at the same time, stringent truth. In particular, apoftegma has traits in common with anecdote, sentence and proverb, although it is not completely attributable to any of them.

[5] In this regard, see the article by Maryvonne Gasse (o.v.) La femme en ligne de front. Un combat eschatologique, pp. 395-398 du livre “The Order of the Vierges – A vocation ancienne et nouvelle – Don du Seigneur à son Eglise”, Imprimerie Saint Josephe 2013, pp 463.

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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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