Mgr Francesco Follo 13 12 2017 @Oss - romano

Archbishop Follo: The Law of Freedom to Walk on the Path of Love

With the invitation to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that He brings with us and in us the ‘yoke’ of the law which in this way becomes a light burden’ (Mt 11:30)

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Roman Rite – VI Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 16, 2020

Sir 15.15-20; Ps 119; 1 Cor 2,6-10; Mt 5.17-37

The law to be filled


Ambrosian Rite -VI Sunday after Epiphany

1Sam 21, 2-6a. 7ab; Ps 43 (42), 1. 3-5; Mt 12, 9b-21

The law is to love


1) Filling the law

Before proposing some reflections on the fulfillment of the Law, I think it useful to dwell on the first verse of today’s Gospel in which Jesus says «Do not believe that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill «(Mt 5:17). If we start from the Greek text and make a literal translation, this sentence would result: “Do not think that I have come to dissolve the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to dissolve, but to fill «. This allows us to understand that Jesus, the Messiah, is the one who fulfills the law, filling it with love.

Love does not destroy; it does not cancel the Law; it is instead the strength and the light to realize it and to teach it (first to do and then to teach) to perfection. Love is the refinement of the law.

Jesus is the first man who lives the Word of God, he is even the Word of God made flesh. Jesus presents himself as the perfect fulfillment of the law. Let us not forget that for the Jews the law is the Word of God, it is the will of God that man has never fulfilled.

The Messiah is the one who fulfills it and gives to man a new heart so that he can fulfill it. In this verse it is stated that the value of the law is perennial and must be fulfilled, and in Jesus it is fulfilled. The greatness of man depends on his observance of the Word of God; whoever observes it and teaches to do the same, will be great, but whoever does not observe it and teaches men to do the same, will be of little importance in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The will of God becomes the measure of the realization of man as a righteous person.

Shortly after, Christ says «If your righteousness does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven» (Mt 5:20). This statement seems to contradict what Jesus said before because he introduces the following antitheses. In fact Jesus says: “do you see the scribes and Pharisees? They are those who know the law well and observe it perfectly. Now, if your righteousness does not exceed theirs, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”. But then, what justice does Christ speak about? Of the justice that comes from love. True love leads to doing well. Therefore, I think it is correct to say that for Jesus justice means what comes from a new heart. Christian justice cannot be reduced to the observance of legal codes but arises from the ability to love which makes people live properly. Practically, the perspective in which Jesus puts us is the one of the Son. Whoever is a child, lives the filial and the fraternal relationships with the others not because of a law, but because of love. Therefore, by virtue of love he observes the law. In fact, those who love in truth do not kill, do not steal, and do not lie because they love.

Love is the fulfillment of the whole law. The law tells where you are wrong, does not give life but says where you can die. Love gives life and whoever loves has life. Therefore, love fulfills the law and doesn’t go against life.

2) The law[1] and its fulfillment [2].    

In today’s Gospel Jesus says that he wants to bring” to fulfillment the Law and the Prophets”[3] (Mt 5:17). In fact, Christ, the Word made flesh for love of us, is not only the Word of the Law, that is, the Way we must follow, but he is also the Truth that fulfills the law and the Life that rewards its fulfillment.

What is then the “fulfillment” of the law? The fulfillment of the law is the obedience to the commandment of love (cf. Rm 13: 9-10). Obedience becomes the sign that one lives under the grace of love. “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Love does not replace the law but complies with it and “fulfills” it.

Indeed, love is the only force that can really observe the law. We can say even more:” Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, as he fulfills its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: He himself becomes a living, personal [4] and bright law.

Psalm 19 compares the law of God to the light of the sun, when it says that “the commandment of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye” (19: 9).

The Book of Proverbs also states that “the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light “(6:23). Finally, we must not forget that Jesus himself presents his person as the definitive revelation using the same image “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8: 12), that is, the light of love. Christ is the Light without which we can walk only groping around. He is the Light that makes us know ourselves, understand the world and know where to go.

Walking in the light of Christ means taking up our daily cross and receive peace. Peace of heart is the strength of the believer: if we are steadfast in obeying the commands of God, our perseverance will be source of happiness.

Let’s  pray to our Father in Heaven that Christ , our Law [5],  may enlighten our hearts, fortify our souls and give us the wisdom of the simple so that we can always walk in His light, even when there are difficulties , troubles and dangers.

Jesus didn’t begin to preach, saying” Repent and believe the gospel so that the Kingdom may come to you “. He began by saying” The kingdom of God has come among you: repent and believe the gospel.” It is not first conversion then salvation, but first the gift of salvation and then conversion.

In Christianity there are duties and commandments, but the plan of the commandments, including the greatest of all that is to love God and the neighbor, is not the first plan, but the second one. First comes the plan of the gift, the plan of grace. “We love because he first loved us “(1 Jan 4:19). It is from the gift that the duty flows and not vice versa.

3) The law is a gift.

Christ tells us not only “what to do “, but “who we should be,” and teaches us how we should live to realize communion in the love for God and for our brothers and sisters. With the observance of the commandments and with love we obey to the law that is rooted in the love of God and that indicates the will of God to rule our lives with his command of charity. With this observance of the law of freedom we become more “human”, making shining in us the image and likeness of God who created us for the life with Him.

The law is the word of God that indicates his will for life. Jesus is the first that has fulfilled this will, which is a gift that God gives us to live as new people in love. Those who love fulfill the law, that is the journey of life, always observing it.

Saying that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, Jesus intends to take away the fear of punishment and to root us in confident love. He is the Man and knows every man, understanding their weakness. He knows that a law imposed by fear of punishment is fulfilled, we can say, three times out of ten. He also knows that a law that guarantees a prize is observed seven times out of ten. He wants to help us to observe it ten times out of ten. As a good older brother He reminds us that not only the law was given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai among thunder and lightning, but it came from the Thought of God, who gave it to us thanks to his Love and proclaimed it with his Word.  Jesus, the Man who has God as Father, teaches us that holiness is not a “job” for a few but the vocation of all the baptized.

Holiness is not separation from the everyday life and from the daily toil to live, but to live in trust and confidence, as children do in their mother’s arms.

A significant example is that of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. What did this woman do that we cannot do? This great Saint answered to love as a young 24 years old woman can do. She didn’t do great things[6]. The greatness of our actions depends on the faith we have in His love. Let’s imitate Little Therese who believed with the certainty of being loved by God. She shook the Heaven with her “simple, small” acts of love, with a smile, with another step in the garden, with the offer of its pain due to bone cancer so that a missionary might have the strength to return to the path of evangelization.

Even her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Martin, lived like little Therese of the Child Jesus, and I think that they taught the kind of lifestyle on which the Carmelite Saint traveled on as the” little way”. The little way of the spiritual childhood of Therese of Lisieux requires the pure and poor heart of a simple person like little Therese who knew how to stand empty-handed before God, without any foothold except “trust and nothing else than trust”.  Holiness and happiness are also a possible goal for us; it is “enough” to live every moment of our daily life offering it to God.

This lifestyle is practiced by the consecrated Virgins, who are simple women that express their talents in dedication to God and in service to others in their everyday life. It is in their daily donation that these women can discern their deepest vocation to take charge of life, even where no human eye but only the eyes of God see.

The Ordo Virginum is a gift to the Church of today to make visible the Kingdom of God among us. These women are called to “do the ordinary extraordinarily well “because consecrated virginity in the world has no operational defined tasks except the clear and courageous testimony of the Gospel in every environment. They give themselves completely to God while remaining in the world. They have as a distinctive sign to show the compassion of God which is manifested by their discreet presence. This presence that donates itself, allows others to meet the Presence that is a gift.

Their life testifies that not only we can do to others what we want done to us, but we can do to others what God does in us, loving with pure and vigorous love. The law of love is not to give a lot or a little, but to give with a lot of love. With the mouth we talk, with the eyes we see, with the hands we do. In consecrated life the mouth speaks words of praise to God, the eyes contemplate the love of God, the hands come together to pray and open themselves to donate.

        Patristic Reading From a commentary on the Diatesseron

   by Saint Ephrem, deacon

   (1, 18-19: SC 121, 52-53)


God’s word is an inexhaustible spring of life

“Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words. We loose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring. For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him. Within it he has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.The word of God is a tree of life that offers us blessed fruit from each of its branches. It is like that rock which was struck open in the wilderness, from which all were offered spiritual drink. As the Apostle says: They ate spiritual food and they drank spiritual drink.And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word. Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it. Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find. But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.Be glad then that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you. A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring. So let this spring quench your thirst, and not you thirst the spring. For from it you can satisfy your thirst without exhausting the spring, then when you thirst again you can drink from it once more; but if when your thirst is sated the spring is also dried up, then your victory would turn to your own harm.Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains. What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage. For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere. So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on.”

[1] It is important to remember that the Law (in Hebrew the Torah) for the Jews is not a set of rules as we understand it; it is a gift that God has given to his people in order to understand his salvific will. In Hebrew Torah derives from the verb to teach (yrh) with a reference to the instruction transmitted by the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Old Testament) and, by extension, it is then attributed to all Scripture. Of course, this gift is practical, it involves concrete actions to be performed and therefore the translation into Greek with nomos (law) is correct.

[2] The fulfillment brought by Jesus to this Law can be understood with reference to:

  1. a) his personal behavior (he observed the precepts of the Law);
  2. b) his role of fulfillment of the Scriptures, underlined by St. Matthew (see chapters 1-2 and other passages);
  3. c) within the scope of his teaching, as expressed in the commandment of love (cf. Mt 22:40) from which all others take strength and meaning.

[3] Law and Prophets were the first two great parts of the Hebrew Bible (the third part is constituted by the Psalms). By extension, they indicate the whole Old Testament, and St. Matthew uses it in this sense (cf. 7:12; 11:13; 22:40).

[4] Saint John Paul II,” Veritatis Splendor”

[5] The Torah of the Messiah is the Messiah himself; it is Jesus. In it, what of the stone tablets of Sinai is truly essential and permanent now appears inscribed in the living flesh: the double commandment of love, which finds expression in the «feelings» that were in Jesus (Phil 2,5). (J. Ratzinger, The Church, Israel and world religions, Rome 1967, p 74)

[6] Then, what things are great before God? What difference is there between Saint Francis Xavier’s achievements and what little Teresa did? Every difference disappears before the infinite greatness of God. A person’s life and greatness are nothing before God. What makes a man’s act great is that every act reaches a God who loves him.

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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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