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

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

Archbishop Follo: The Command of Love is New Because it is a Gift and Not a Law

With the wish to understand that the «duty» of loving God and our neighbor takes love away from volubility and anchors it to eternity

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Roman Rite – XXX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – October 25, 2020

Ex 22.21-27; Ps 18; 1 Thes 1.5-10; Mt 22, 34-40


Ambrosian Rite – Sunday after the Dedication – ‘The missionary mandate’

Acts 10, 34-48a; Ps 95; 1, 17b-1 Cor 24; Lk 24, 44-49a



In this Sunday’s Gospel, we are faced with Christ who commands us to love God and our neighbor. Two spontaneous questions arise: “Why does He command us to love? What does it mean to love? “.

The first question could be answered succinctly as follows: “To command” comes from the Latin “com-mittere” = to send together, and God sends us all together towards the Love that is He, therefore, He commands us. That is, each of us is constituted by this command. We are “envoys” who go to God and the neighbor in communion. I believe that the Messiah’s command is more than an order; it is a kind of supplication for which it is God who prays us, perhaps he prays us more than we pray him. Of a pious person it is said that he prays God. Instead, I believe that God prays every person, begs every person: please, love me! He is almost a beggar.

In the passage from the Gospel, which the liturgy proposes on this Sunday, Christ teaches us that all divine law is summed up in love. The commandment of love for God, together with the one of love for the neighbor, contains the two aspects of a single dynamism of the heart and of life. Jesus brings to fulfillment the ancient revelation not adding an unpublished commandment, but realizing in himself and in his own salvific action the living synthesis of the two great sentences of the ancient Covenant: “You will love the Lord your God with all your heart …” and “You will love your neighbor as yourself” (cf. Dt 6,5; Lv 19,18).

In the Eucharist we contemplate the sacrament of this living synthesis of the law: Christ gives us in himself the full realization of love for God and for our brothers and sisters and communicates this love to us when we nourish ourselves with his Body and his Blood. Then it can be realized in us what Saint Paul writes to the Thessalonians in today’s second reading “You have converted, turning away from idols, to serve the living and true God” (1 Thes 1,9). This conversion is the principle of the path of holiness that the Christian is called to carry out in his own existence.

The saint is the one who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and his perfect truth that he is progressively transformed by it. For this beauty and truth, he is ready to give up everything, even himself. The love of God, which he experiences in the humble and selfless service of his neighbor, especially of those who are unable to reciprocate, is enough for him.

1) Total Love.

Jesus lived among men, and He, the Emmanuel, remains among us just because He loves us. To realize this love and live it we must first be humble. The humbles, like a child, feel “instinctively” the one who loves them, trust him, and are happy when he comes- even their face is transformed – and their face shows sadness when he leaves. These humbles listen to Christ because they understand that He came for them to bring the joyful good news of God’s Love. Nobody had talked to them like He did. Nobody had shown so much love for them.

When Jesus had finished speaking, the elderly, the Pharisees, the men who could read and earn shaking their heads in the act of ill omen got up grimacing and winking to each other annoyed, outraged, and muttering a cautious disapproval.

But no one laughed for fear of the last ones: The Poor, the Shepherds, the Farmers, the Blacksmiths, the Fishermen, the Lepers, in short, the Rejects. They could not take their eyes off Jesus. They would have liked him to continue speaking because a solace of light was (and is) coming from His wise words of love.

Jesus tells these words of love also to those who interrogate him, even if they do it to test him. To the doctor of the Law who asks, “Teacher, in the Law, which is the greatest commandment?[1]” Jesus gives a simple and effective answer and quotes two verses from the Torah, the document that encloses the experience of Israel. He reminds us that only by loving God with all ourselves we will be able to genuinely love others because we would love them with the same love of God. Christ insists that our heart, soul, and mind are attracted by God’s eternal love and tells us that between the two ancient and well-known commands the second is like the first. The neighbor then becomes like God and has voice and heart “similar” to God. God does not reserve the space in our hearts only for Him but amplifies it and makes us capable of loving fully our neighbor:  wife, husband, children, friends, brothers and sisters of the community.

To the wise man of the Law Jesus responds like a wise man of the heart. He knows that a creature needs a lot of love to live well. He offers his Gospel as the way to fullness and happiness in this life. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind” (Mt 22, 37).  We find this sentence three times in the Gospel of Matthew and four times in the one of Mark who adds “with all your strength” (Mk 12, 30). Jesus says that the only measure of love is to love without measure.  If we love God without half-measures, the heart can love our family, our friends and ourselves. God is not jealous; he does not steal our heart, but he multiplies it. Fullness does not mean exclusivity, then

Love God

With all your heart: Jesus does not speak of the “heart” with the meaning that today we would give to this word. He uses it in the biblical sense, as a term that expresses the deepest reality of the human being. “To love God with all your heart” means to turn one’s whole being and his actions towards God in a burst of love.

– “With all your soul,[2]” which means life, our “intimate space” inhabited by God. “Love is the wing that God gave to the soul to rise up to him” (Michelangelo Buonarroti).  The one who loves with the soul sees better with his eyes, and his love is pure.

With all your mind, which includes thoughts and intelligence. Love makes clever, able to understand better and to go deeper and farther.

With all your strength, which means the set of all energies. Love makes us strong and able to face any obstacle and effort.

 2) Two characteristics of true love: gratitude and gratuity.

In the Gospel of Matthew that the liturgy offers today, we find Jesus dealing with the Pharisees who lived in the temptation to reduce moral to a set of rules, worrying about external appearance. The response of the Messiah is simple and effective. He quotes two verses from the Old Testament, the Torah, which encloses the experience of Israel, reminding us that only by loving God with all of ourselves we will be able to truly love our neighbor because we will love him with the same love of God.

Where to begin to love? From letting us to be loved by Him, who enters and expands the walls of the small vessel that is each one of us. We are the loved ones who become lovers of Christ. The result, as seen in a loving couple in which one loves what the other loves, is that we love what Christ loves. And not only that; we must love as He loves.

We must live Christ as the model of our lives. What does it mean that Christ is the ideal of our life? He is the model for the way we treat people, the way we live affection and the way we understand life and look at things and people, and the way in which we live the relationships in our family, in the parish community and in the workplace. Christ as model of life has two characteristics that are not the only ones, but today I want to stress two: gratitude and gratuity.

A grateful heart is always a faithful heart and the ability to be grateful and to say “thank you” is the sign of Christian maturity.

There are moments in life – I believe that they happen to everyone- in which a person already here on earth, experiences ‘paradise’, the true greatness and beauty of man. It is when we feel loved by someone else (mom, dad, boyfriend, girlfriend, wife, husband).  It is an experience of love, true love, the one of the heart which I don’t doubt to compare to a ‘taste’ of Paradise and  to affirm that the best way to enjoy it is to say “Thank you” recognizing that we are not the makers of ourselves but that everything is given to us. Gratitude then inserts in us gratuity: we love without thinking of being loved.  We look to the Other and to the others as the Virgin Mary looks to Christ, not because he belongs to us but because he is there.

This is absolute purity. Let us humbly make the effort to put ourselves in this absolute purity. It is a gratuity of purity that makes life incorruptible. In gratuitousness human relationship is not null and void because, with Christ and in Christ, we are not together for interest, calculation, or profit but by faith and love.

Of course, the love of God is the greatest and the first: the primacy of God is affirmed without hesitation. Love for others comes second. By saying, however, that “the second is like the first,” Jesus states that between the two feelings there is a close relationship.

Surely there is a different measure: the love of God is “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind.” The love of man is “like yourself.” Totality belongs only to the Lord: He alone is to be worshiped. But to belong to the Lord cannot be without love for humanity. These are not two parallel commandments simply pushed together. It is not even enough to say that the second is based on the first. It is much more: the second realizes the first.

We can see an example of how to live these two commandments in the consecrated Virgins in the world. Their lifestyle is to start from their consecration to God and to speak always of God primarily with the testimony of their life. These women show that God must always be put first, and that man is made for God. This is what should never be forgotten, even where poverty and injustice are big and where society tends to build the world without God; this is always against humanity. These consecrated women live life as a mission and with the grace of God show that it is possible to love chastely, to forgive fully and to serve joyfully and freely. In them, the heart took the lead, but it is the Heart of Christ.


Patristic Reading

John Chrysostom

Homily LXXI on Matthew 22, 34 26

 “But when the Pharisees had heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together; and one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Again doth the evangelist express the cause, for which they ought to have held their peace, and marks their boldness by this also. How and in what way? Because when those others were put to silence, these again assail Him. For when they ought even for this to hold their peace, they strive to urge further their former endeavors,1 and put forward the lawyer, not desiring to learn, but making a trial of Him, and ask, “What is the first commandment?”

For since the first commandment was this, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God,” thinking that He would afford them some handle, as though He would amend it, for the sake of showing that Himself too was God, they propose the question. What then saith Christ? Indicating from what they were led to this; from having no charity, from pining with envy. from being seized by jealousy, He saith, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. This is the first and great commandment.2 And the second is like unto this3 Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”4

But wherefore “like unto this?” Because this makes the way for that, and by it is again established; “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light;’5 and again, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” And what in conssequence of this? “They are corrupt, and become abminable in their ways.”6 And again, “The love of money is the root of all evils; which while some coveted after they have erred from the faith; “7 and, “He that loveth me, will keep my commandment.”8

But His commandments, and the sum of them, are, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, and thy neighbor as thyself.” If therefore to love God is to love one’s neighbor, “For if thou lovest me,” He saith, “O Peter, feed my sheep,”9 but to love one’s neighbor worketh a keeping of the commandments, with reason doth He say, “On these hang all the law and the prophets.”10

So therefore what He did before, this He doth here also. I mean, that both there, when asked about the manner of the resurrection, He also taught a resurrection, instructing “For charity envieth not.”11 By this He shows Himself to be submissive both to the law and to the prophets.

But wherefore doth Matthew say that he asked, tempting Him, but Mark the contrary? “For when Jesus,” he saith, “saw that he answered discretly, He said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”12

1 ejpagwnivzontai toi`” protevroi”).

2 [R. V., following a different reading, “great and first.”]

3 [The text varies from the received slightly, as well as from the reading accepted in the R. V.—R.]

4 .

Jn 3,20.

Ps 53,1.

7 1Tm 6,10.

8 Jn 14,15. [The paraphrase given above confirms the rendering of the R..V, “If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments.”—R.]

9 Jn 21,16-17.

10 Mt 22,40.

11 1Co 13,4.

12 Mc 12,34.

[1] It is useful to remember that the rabbis from the Torah had formulated 613 laws to apply to all possible situations of life the primary rules of the 10 commandments. Of course, even the most rigorously observant Jew was lost in the forest of requirements and therefore the Jewish teachers were trying to identify a hierarchy, relevant distinctions and above all, a unifying principle for so many rules. Hence here the question presented to Jesus.

[2]    In the New Testament “psyche” = soul is a term used to denote life, real life, a person. See the concise, but clear and complete discussion of it in Critical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Jean-Yves Lacoste in the session “heart-soul-body.” Keep in mind that with the words “heart, soul, mind, strength” Jesus does not intend much to make a lesson of anthropology listing the different faculties involved in love, but rather to insist on the only important thing which is to love God with our whole being.

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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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