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

Archbishop Follo: Love is Always a ‘Duty’ and Hate is Never a ‘Right’

With the wish to understand that who receives Christ in his own life and loves Him by all his heart is capable of a new beginning, of loving the enemies too

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Roman Rite – Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time – February 23rd, 2020

Lv 19, 1-2.17-18, Ps 103, 1 Cor 3.16 to 23, 5.38 to 48 Mt

Love your enemies


Ambrosian Rite – Penultimate Sunday after Epiphany

Bar 1.15a; 2.9 -15a, Ps 105, Rom 7:16 a; Jn 8:1-11

For Christ our sins are like dust.


  • «Love your enemies”: is it a realistic command?

Jesus asks to love our enemies with the self-giving love that drives us to offer ourselves for the good and freedom of the other without expecting anything in return. If we do not love the other, even if he is an enemy, we do not love the Father, who is also his Father.

The Father has no enemies, he only has children, and if we have known the Father and his free paternal love, we cannot fail to love the brother who can be our worst enemy. This is the essence of Christianity, that is, the religion of the Son who came to bring to earth the love of the Father for all the brothers. Obviously, this love is the gift of the Holy Spirit because one cannot – humanly speaking – love the enemy. We can hardly love ourselves; we can hardly love our friend with selfless love. How is it possible to love the enemy who persecutes us?

Yet, right in the enemy the absolute gratuitousness of love is revealed, and God has revealed his love to us because, when we were still enemies to each other and to him, he gave his life for us. Therefore, the love for the enemy reveals the essence of God as free love, of his Spirit. The Spirit is life, the life of God is free love. It is the free love that exists between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

Is it possible to love our enemies while they manifest their hostility, their hatred, and their aversion? Is it humanly possible to put into practice this command of Christ? Love for enemies seems madness to common reason. Does that mean that our salvation is in madness? Love for our enemies resembles the hate for ourselves. Does that mean that we will reach beatitude only if we hate ourselves?

Why does Jesus ask us to love our enemies, a task that exceeds human capacities?

“It is not easy, but,” Pope Francis said during the Mass celebrated on the morning of Thursday, September 12, 2018, in the Saint Martha’s chapel “ it is possible: it is enough to contemplate Jesus’ suffering and the suffering humanity and live with Jesus a life hidden in God.”

Again Pope Francis explains: “Jesus very well knows that loving our enemies goes beyond our means, but for this reason he became man: not to leave us as we are, but to transform us into men and women capable of a greater love, that of his and our Father. This is the love that Jesus gives to those who ‘listen to him’. And then it becomes possible! With him, thanks to his love and to his Spirit we can love even those who do not love us, even those who hurt us «(February 24, 2019).

To understand love and to do it we must take seriously the invitation of the Apostle Paul, “Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus. » (Phil. 2:5) “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. (Col 3, 12-13).

In order to love everyone in the charity of Christ, including our enemies, the way is to fasten our eyes on Christ on the Cross so to learn to feel how Jesus felt and to conform our way of thinking, deciding and acting with Jesus’ feelings. If we take this road, we live well and take the right path. In the contemplation of the crucified love, we’ll have the confirmation that Jesus loves us. This love is tenderness and a great consolation for us; it is a comfort and a great responsibility day by day. It is love that is given to us and that we cannot acquire with study or practice: it is a free gift from God that we must responsibly bring to fruition.

The world – and we in the world – condemns and executes, that is, eliminates every enemy. The world goes to war toward the enemy up to his annihilation. But Christ tells us to love our enemies, and His Word is truth. It is reality. This Word of love here and now is fulfilled in us, God’s enemies always busy to eliminate our enemies, along the way losing patience, forgiveness and love. We, full of sins, are infinitely loved and beloved by God, rich in mercy.

The Christian is led by the Gospel to see in himself the enemy loved by God and for whom Christ died: this is the basic experience of faith from which the spiritual path that leads to love for the enemy can rise! Paul writes: “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.» (Rom 5:8-10).

Our lost life is redeemed and fulfilled in His forgiveness. His open arms are even today our refuge and our perfection. We are therefore perfect and complete ​​only in His hidden wounds of love (cf. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux). “It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 12). Pierced by His mercy we become His wounds open to the world, a sign of salvation, life, and forgiveness for all people. Our daily wounds combined with His wounds are a perfection that saves the world.

2) To look from the Cross.

There, nailed to our cross we are perfect. There, where no one greets us, there, where the sun hides and the rain runs away, there, where the world erases the unrighteous, the children of the heavenly Father give life, freely and because of a loving faith.

There, where the world hates, the disciples of the Love love. Our life is fulfilled on the Cross where we are crucified with Him. «Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7:37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19:34)”. (Benedict XVI, Deus caritas Est 7). It is He alive in us that loves every man and comes into us in the last place, the servant of this generation to open Heaven to every enemy who by His blood has been turned into a friend. Moreover, every enemy is a brother in the eyes of Christ, as it was for us just a moment ago, or yesterday, or shall be tomorrow.

Let’s learn to look at the other, at our neighbor not any more just with our eyes and with our good intentions, but from the Cross, from the point of view of Jesus Christ.

His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern… Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave.” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas, Est, 18). The eyes of God, who loves all giving to all what they need without distinction of any kind, are Jesus’ eyes laid on this humanity through our own eyes.

There is a beautiful insight by Nicholas Berdiaeff: «In the beginning God said to Cain: What have you done to your brother Abel? On the last day He will not turn to Cain but to Abel saying, “What have you done to your brother Cain?” Abel will not rise for revenge, but to guard Cain. The new earth will be when the victims will take care of their executioners. This is the heart of God «. With his infinite love Christ did so for us.

To learn from him we must go to Calvary and watch the Redeemer on the Cross, and then we must get on the cross next to him and look from his point of view. To this love we arrive through a process and through asceticism. Love is not spontaneous: it requires discipline, asceticism, a fight against the instinct of anger and against the temptation of hate. Then we will arrive to the responsibility of those who have the courage to exercise fraternal correction denouncing “constructively” the evil committed by others. Love for the enemy must not be mistaken with complicity with the sinner.

Those who do not hold a grudge and do not seek revenge but correct the brother are in fact also able to forgive. Forgiveness is the mysterious maturity of faith and love for which the offended freely chooses to waive his right against those who have already stepped on his own just rights. Those who forgive sacrifice a legal relationship in favor of a relationship of grace.

For this to be possible, it is essential that next to the command to love our enemies there are prayer for the persecutors and intercession for the opponents. «Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.» (Mt 5:44) If we do not accept in prayer the other (and in particular the one who has become our enemy, contradicts us, opposes us and slanders us) learning to see with the eyes of God in the mystery of his person and of his vocation, we will never get to love him. But it must be clear that the love of the enemy is a matter of deep faith, of “intelligence of the heart,” of inner richness, of love for the Lord, and not simply of good will.

This love, to which God calls us, is a love that does not rely ultimately on human resources, but it is the gift of God obtained by trusting solely and unreservedly in his merciful goodness.

Here is the newness of the Gospel that changes the world without making any noise. Here is the heroism of the «little ones» who believe in the love of God and spread it even at the cost of their life. Christ is the first in this love for the enemies, and the martyrs have imitated Him loving to the end. However, let’s keep in mind that consecrated life is in this respect a bloodless but daily martyrdom.  In the Ordo Virginum people are called to martyrdom without shedding of blood because they live a life totally dedicated to faithfulness to God and intercession for the sinners who think to be the enemies of Christ, who instead loves them and calls upon them the mercy of the Father. In the concealment of a simple life like that of Our Lady of Nazareth, they show that it is possible to imitate the eminent example of the Mother of Christ in whom God was the protagonist, and whose virginity was the expression also physical of her total openness to the plan of God. The vocation of these women is to humbly pray and work to bring peace to the Earth, to reconcile the hostile brothers, to resurrect Abel, and to bring Cain back the love.( Cf. Two invocations of the litanic prayer in the Ritual of the Consecration of the Virgins, n. 20 – literal translation from Latin: O Lord,

-keep and make the flame of blessed virginity grow in your Church, please listen to us;

-put sincere understanding and peace among people, please listen to us)



Patristic Reading

Saint Augustine of Hippo

                                              Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John ( 1:9)

And in this, says he, we do know Him, if we keep His commandments. (1 John 2:3-4) What commandments? He that says, I know Him, and keeps not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But still you ask what commandments? But whoso, says he, keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. (1 John 2:5) Let us see whether this same commandment be not called love. For we were asking, what commandments, and he says, But whoso keeps His word, in him verily is the love of God perfected. Mark the Gospel, whether this be not the commandment: A new commandment, says the Lord, give I unto you, that you love one another. (John 13:34) — In this we know that we are in Him, if in Him we be perfected. Perfected in love, he calls them: what is perfection of love? To love even enemies, and love them for this end, that they may be brethren. For not a carnal love ought ours to be. To wish a man temporal good, is good; but though that fail, let the soul be safe. Do you wish life to any that is your friend? You do well. Do you rejoice at the death of your enemy? You do badly. But haply both to your friend the life you wish him is not for his good, and to your enemy the death you rejoice at has been for his good. It is uncertain whether this present life be profitable to any man or unprofitable: but the life which is with God without doubt is profitable. So love your enemies as to wish them to become your brethren; so love your enemies as that they may be called into your fellowship. For so loved He who, hanging on the cross, said, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) For he did not say, Father let them live long, me indeed they kill, but let them live. He was casting out from them the death which is for ever and ever, by His most merciful prayer, and by His most surpassing might. Many of them believed, and the shedding of the blood of Christ was forgiven them. At first they shed it while they raged; now they drank it while they believed. In this we know that we are in Him, if in Him we be made perfect. Touching the very perfection of love of enemies, the Lord admonishing, says, Be therefore perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48) He, therefore, that says he abides in Him, ought himself also so to walk, even as He walked.(1 John 2:6 ) How, brethren? What does he advise us? He that says he abides in Him, i.e., in Christ, ought himself also so to walk even as He walked. Haply the advice is this, that we should walk on the sea. That be far from us! It is this then that we walk in the way of righteousness. In what way? I have already mentioned it. He was fixed upon the cross, and yet was He walking in this very way: this way is the way of charity, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. If, therefore, you have learned to pray for your enemy, you walk in the way of the Lord.

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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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