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

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

Archbishop Follo: To Keep the Commandments is to Practice Love

With the hope of understanding that the commandments of God are indications of love.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Sixth Easter Sunday – Year A – May 17, 2020

Roman rite

Acts 8.5-8.14-17; Ps 66; 1Pt 3,15-18; Jn 14.15-21

Ambrosian rite

Acts 4.8-14; Ps 117; 1 Cor 2,12-16; Jn 14.25-29


The risk that we can run in this time of pandemic is the one of being defined by what we do not love instead of by what we love: the risen Christ.

Spending the days with telecommuting or “killing the time” makes us run the risk of reacting either to things to do or to the boredom of not knowing how to occupy the long days that we are forced to spend at home. In both cases, the habit of the everyday, the ordinary and – often – the boring can stifle the happiness brought by the resurrection of Christ, which we are called to celebrate with particular intensity in this Easter time.

How can we ensure that our life, here and now, is the narration of the fidelity to the encounter with the risen Christ who vivifies our heart as the fire of spring enlivens the wheat sown in the earth?

I would like to propose two ways.

1- Asking for the grace to live the love to Christ diligently, attentively, and assiduously so that the “banal” daily life becomes heroic, that is, filled with the great love of Christ. This caring affection, this constant question is not only of the saints but also of us sinners. Moreover, the prayer of the repentant sinner gives peace to us and joy to God. A joy like the one of mothers when the newborn child smiles at them for the first time.

2- Observing the commandments of Christ as a loving response to His love, which shows us the way of truth. To love is to observe the “Word” (the commandments of Christ are the Word’s words of love) because love consists not so much in words or feelings but in facts and truth, and therefore in those facts and actions that correspond to the truth of the heart. Observing means “looking carefully to know”, but it also means “practicing”: it is a practice, that is that love becomes knowledge but also practice, it becomes “action”.

1) Freedom is to keep the commandments.

The Gospel teaches us that the essential is to love Christ and to guard his word to implement it. Even today’s Gospel passage focuses on love: “If you love me … whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. “[1](Jn 14, 15.21). The love that Jesus asks for is expressed observing his commandments and is made possible by the love that God first offered us: “It was not we who loved God, but it was he who loved us and sent his Son as a victim of expiation for our sins “(1 Jn 4:10). In fact when we feel loved we are more easily driven to love. Love is the fulfillment of the vocation of each of us. It is the great gift that makes us truly and fully “human”. It is this love that humanity needs today more than ever “because only love is credible” (John Paul II).

How can we believe and practice love? Today’s Gospel offers us two suggestions.

The first is to obey the commandments of God recognizing them as the content and the language of love which “grasps” us tenderly.

Entering the Love of Christ means being seized by a dynamism for which the Law is not only observed as an obligation, but it is put into practice as a requirement of the heart. Those who taste the Love of Christ can only love and live on this Love, which is life. In fact, there is no real life except in true Love. A love that makes us exist as children and live as brothers and sisters.

The essential is invisible to the eyes” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery , The Little Prince) is the secret that the fox hands over to the little Prince after the latter has tamed her and the indissoluble bond of true friendship was born between them. The long and difficult journey that Jesus has made with his disciples has led to a mutual “domestication”, such as the one narrated in the book of Saint-Exupéry. Jesus is linked to his disciples whom he calls friends, and they are linked to him and to each other (“love one another as I have loved you“). This bond faced the terrible ordeal of death and the mystery of the resurrection, but it did not break. From Jesus there is the promise that friendship would not fail: the gift of the Holy Spirit is just that. But, as the fox says to the little prince, “it is seen only with the heart”, and the commandments of God educate the heart so that it can see.

2)  We are free because we are children “tied” to the Father by obedient love, and not orphans “untied” by Love.

One might object: “How can love be commanded? And how can love have commandments? Is it not love freedom? ” Yes, love is freedom, it is the freedom that adheres to truth and love happily and decisively. Love knows many obligations and many duties, but they are experienced as an expression of freedom and self-realization and not as a constraint. Love is not doing what I like, love is loving the other wanting the good of the other, love is serving, love is putting one’s life at stake, love is exactly the opposite of selfishness.

Love is not giving what you have, but what you are. Then you also want what others are, not their things. Love is not the gift of one’s things, but the gift of oneself. It is not for nothing that, in the Gospel, love is identified with obedience because obedience is the gift of self. If you love me, keep my commandmentsWhoever observes my commandments, that is he who loves me, says Jesus at the Last Supper.

The love of Christ is the supreme law that makes me understand if the small or big action that I am doing is true or false and if it leads to life or death. Love for Jesus, his law of love and freedom is the source of every action, of every command. He loved us first and we “must” respond to this love to be like him and see him: “The love of God is the first that is commanded, the love of neighbor is the first, however, that must be practiced. .. By loving your neighbor, make your eye pure to see God “(Saint Augustine of Hippo, In Io. Ev. Tr., 17, 8).

Our mind and our heart can never be empty, they are filled with one thing or with another. Even during our daily activities, we must keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, who will see if our heart and our eyes have an angelic purity.

To those who ask how to make a continuous prayer, I suggest that you make short stops during the day to put things in order, to free yourself from bad thoughts and to feed yourself again with a verse from the Gospel, or a psalm or an episode of the life of the Lord. For this reason, the Church has established the Liturgy of the “Hours”. It takes little to get lost, to lose the center of gravity, to go out and get distracted. Here are the psalms at regular intervals, to find the center (Christ) and remember the “presence” that lives deep in our hearts. The heart is where we can recognize that Jesus has not abandoned us and that the bond established with his disciples has not been broken despite the passage of centuries and the many fragility and limitations of Christians from the beginning up to the present day.

This is what happens in monasteries where nothing must be placed before the divine Office because nothing must be placed before the reception of this divine “presence”. Custody of the heart and senses must be practiced. Wanting to look at everything, talk about everything, and snoop about everything fill our house with junk, if not of bad things. The Lord then cannot speak to us neither enter a conversation of love with us.

This is what happens in the life of the consecrated virgins in the world, who are called to live a monastic life within society. In this regard, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “Virgins who, committed to the holy plan of following Christ more closely, are consecrated to God by the diocesan bishop according to the approved liturgical rite, are betrothed mystically to Christ, the Son of God, and are dedicated to the service of the Church.” By this solemn rite (Consecratio virginum), the virgin is “constituted . . . a sacred person, a transcendent sign of the Church’s love for Christ, and an eschatological image of this heavenly Bride of Christ and of the life to come.” “As with other forms of consecrated life,” the order of virgins establishes the woman living in the world (or the nun) in prayer, penance, service of her brethren, and apostolic activity, according to the state of life and spiritual gifts given to her. Consecrated virgins can form themselves into associations to observe their commitment more faithfully. (CCC 923-924)

These consecrated women show, with their existence given entirely to God, the profound truth of this affirmation of Christ: “Whoever accepts my commandments and observes them, this is he who loves me. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I too will love him and manifest myself to him “(Jn 14:21).

The consequence of love and obedience to Jesus is the gift of the Paraclete[2], sent by the Father at the prayerful request of the Son Jesus. We are not and will never be orphans, Jesus assures us in today’s Gospel. The love with which the Lord Jesus loves us translates into his constant prayer which obtains, instant by instant, the gift of the Paraclete. It is a name that designated the lawyer, the one who assists and helps in the process to defend against the accuser. And Satan[3] means exactly accuser. The Holy Spirit is called to us, even today, in this instant, and in every second of our life, to defend ourselves and to remind us and announce the Truth that we are children of God in the Son Jesus.

In the face of accusations of infidelity, hypocrisy, and inconstancy, in front of the contempt of ourselves to which the accuser pushes us, the Paraclete consoles us, fills us with the love of the Lord, fulfills in us every commandment, guards it and welcomes it by releasing within us the love for Christ. It is true: The Holy Spirit is the love with which we love the Lord, the same love that unites the Father and the Son and makes us intimate with their intimacy. In the Holy Spirit we are the home of God, and our whole life is transformed into a marvelous cathedral where every man can recognize the loving and merciful presence of God.


     Patristic Reading

          Saint Augustine of Hippo

              Tractate 74 (John 14:15-17)

  1. We have heard, brethren, while the Gospelwas read, the Lord saying: If you loveme, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter [Paraclete], that He may abide with you for ever; [even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees Him not, neither knows Him: but you shall know Him; for He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you. There are many points which might form the subject of inquiry in these few words of the Lord; but it were too much for us either to search into all that is here for the searching, or to find out all that we here search for. Nevertheless, as far as the Lord is pleased to grant us the power, and in proportion to our capacity and yours, attend to what we ought to say and you to hear, and receive, beloved, what we on our part are able to give, and apply to Him for that wherein we fail. It is the Spirit, the Comforter, that Christ has promised to His apostles; but let us notice the way in which He gave the promise. If you love me, He says, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever: [even] the Spirit of truth. We have here, at all events, the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, whom the catholic faith acknowledges to be consubstantial and co-eternal with Father and Son: He it is of whom the apostle says, The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us. Romans 5:5 How, then, does the Lord say, If you love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter; when He says so of the Holy Spirit, without [having] whom we can neither love God nor keep His commandments? How can we love so as to receive Him, without whom we cannot love at all? Or how shall we keep the commandments so as to receive Him, without whom we have no power to keep them? Or can it be that the love wherewith we love Christ has a prior place within us, so that, by thus loving Christ and keeping His commandments, we become worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit, in order that the love, not of Christ, which had already preceded, but of God the Father, may be shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who is given unto us? Such a thought is altogether wrong. For he who believes that he loves the Son, and loves not the Father, certainly loves not the Son, but some figment of his own imagination. And besides, this is the apostolic declaration, No one says, Lord Jesus, but in the Holy Spirit1 Corinthians 12:3 and who is it that calls Him Lord Jesus but he that loves Him, if he so call Him in the way the apostle intended to be understood? For many call Him so with their lips, but deny Him in their hearts and works; just as He says of such, For they profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him. Titus 1:16 If it is by works He is denied, it is doubtless also by works that His name is truly invoked. No one, therefore, says, Lord Jesus, in mind, in word, in deed, with the heart, the lips, the labor of the hands — no one says, Lord Jesus, but in the Holy Spirit; and no one calls Him so but he that loves. And accordingly the apostles were already calling Him Lord Jesus: and if they called Him so, in no way that implied a feigned utterance, with the mouth confessing, in heart and works denying Him; if they called Him so in all truthfulness of soul, there can be no doubt they loved. And how, then, did they love, but in the Holy Spirit? And yet they are commanded to love Him and keep His commandments, previous and in order to their receiving the Holy Spirit: and yet, without having that Spirit, they certainly could not love Him and keep His commandments.
  2. We are therefore to understand that he who loves has already the Holy Spirit, and by what he has becomes worthy of a fuller possession, that by having the more he may lovethe more. Already, therefore, had the disciplesthat Holy Spirit whom the Lord promised, for without Him they could not call Him Lord; but they had Him not as yet in the way promised by the Lord. Accordingly they both had, and had Him not, inasmuch as they had Him not as yet to the same extent as He was afterwards to be possessed. They had Him, therefore, in a more limited sense: He was yet to be given them in an ampler measure. They had Him in a hidden way, they were yet to receive Him in a way that was manifest; for this present possession had also a bearing on that fuller gift of the Holy Spirit, that they might come to a conscious knowledge of what they had. It is in speaking of this gift that the apostle says: Now we have received, not the spirit of this world, but the spirit which is of God, that we may know the things that are freely given to us of God1 Corinthians 2:12 For that same manifest bestowal of the Holy Spirit the Lord made, not once, but on two separate occasions. For close on the back of His resurrection from the dead He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit. And because He then gave [the Spirit], did He on that account fail in afterwards sending Him according to His promise? Or was it not the very same Spirit who was both then breathed upon them by Himself, and afterwards sent by Him from heaven? Acts 2:4 And so, why that same giving on His part which took place publicly, also took place twice, is another question: for it may be that this twofold bestowal of His in a public way took place because of the two Commandments of love, that is, to our neighbor and to God, in order that love might be impressively intimated as pertaining to the Holy Spirit. And if any other reason is to be sought for, we cannot at present allow our discourse to be improperly prolonged by such an inquiry: provided, however, it be admitted that, without the Holy Spirit, we can neither love Christ nor keep His commandments; while the less experience we have of His presence, the less also can we do so; and the fuller our experience, so much the greater our ability. Accordingly, the promise is no vain one, either to him who has not [the Holy Spirit], or to him who has. For it is made to him who has not, in order that he may have; and to him who has, that he may have more abundantly. For were it not that He was possessed by some in smaller measure than by others, St. Elisha would not have said to St. Elijah, Let the spirit that is in you be in a twofold measure in me. 2 Kings 2:9
  3. But when John the Baptist said, For God gives not the Spirit by measure, he was speaking exclusively of the Son of God, who received not the Spirit by measure; for in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead. Colossians 2:9And no more is it independently of the graceof the Holy Spirit that the Mediator between God and men is the man Christ Jesus: 1 Timothy 2:5 for with His own lips He tells us that the prophetical utterance had been fulfilled in Himself: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because He has anointed me, and has sent me to preach the gospel to the poor. Luke 4:18-21 For His being the Only-begotten, the equal of the Father, is not of grace, but of nature; but the assumption of human nature into the personal unity of the Only-begotten is not of nature, but of grace, as the Gospel acknowledges itself when it says, And the child grew, and waxed strong, being filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was in Him. Luke 2:40 But to others He is given by measure — a measure ever enlarging until each has received his full complement up to the limits of his own perfection. As we are also reminded by the apostle, Not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think soberly; according as God has dealt to every man the measure of faithRomans 12:3 Nor is it the Spirit Himself that is divided, but the gifts bestowed by the Spirit: for there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 1 Corinthians 12:4
  4. But when He says, I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, He intimates that He Himself is also a paraclete. For paraclete is in Latin called advocatus(advocate); and it is said of Christ, We have an advocate with the FatherJesus Christthe righteous. 1 John 2:1 But He said that the world could not receive the Holy Spirit, in much the same sense as it is also said, The minding of the flesh is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God; neither indeed can be; just as if we were to say, Unrighteousness cannot be righteous. For in speaking in this passage of the world, He refers to those who love the world; and such a love is not of the Father. 1 John 2:16 And thus the love of this world, which gives us enough to do to weaken and destroy its power within us, is in direct opposition to the love of God, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us. The world, therefore, cannot receive Him, cause it sees Him not, neither knows Him. For worldly love possesses not those invisible eyes, whereby, save in an invisible way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen.
  5. But you, He adds, shall knowHim; for He shall dwell with you, and be in you. He will be in them, that He may dwell with them; He will not dwell with them to the end that He may be in them: for the being anywhere is prior to the dwelling there. But to prevent us from imagining that His words, He shall dwell with you, were spoken in the same sense as that in which a usually dwells with a man in a visible way, He explained what He shall dwell with you meant, when He added the words, He shall be in you. He is seen, therefore, in an invisible way: nor can we have any knowledge of Him unless He be in us. For it is in a similar way that we come to see our conscience within us: for we see the face of another, but we cannot see our own; but it is our own conscience we see, not another’s. And yet conscience is never anywhere but within us: but the Holy Spirit can be also apart from us, since He is given that He may also be in us. But we cannot see and know Him in the only way in which He may be seen and known, unless He be in us.

[1] Let me point out that this indication of v 15 is taken up again at vv. 21 and 26, albeit in a different form.

[2] Paraclete derives from the Greek παράκλητος (paraclētus) that is called near, invoked next to. The Paraclete or Advocate is the one who is close, who is on my side, takes my defense, intercedes for me, the Comforter that is one of the appellatives of the Holy Spirit.

[3] Satan: in Hebrew: שָׂטָן, Satàn; in Greek: Σατᾶν o Σατανᾶς; Satàn o Satanâs; in Latin: Satănas. The meaning in Hebrew would be “prosecutor”, “opponent”, “one who opposes”, “contradictor”.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation