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Jesus giving the Farewell Discourse to his 11 remaining disciples, from the Maestà of Duccio, 1308–1311 - Wikipedia

Archbishop Follo: Listening, Welcoming, Loving

With the invitation to be more and more aware that we are the temple of God where He dwells: this is the Paradise.

Roman Rite

Sixth Sunday of Easter- Year C- May 26, 2019

Acts 15,1-2.22-29; Ps 145; Rev 21,10-14.22-23; Jn 14.23-29

Ambrosian Rite

Acts 21-40b-22.22; Ps 66; Heb7,17-26; Jn 16.12-22

  • A Presence to be listened to and accepted: to be loved.

                  To the apostle Judas Thaddeus (not the Iscariot), who asked to understand better how Jesus would be manifested to his followers and not to the world (Jn 14.22), Jesus replies: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him “(Jn 14:23). The Greek verb used in this sentence to say “to love” is agapao, which expresses “a love that remains faithful, the characteristic love of God. Whoever loves Jesus with this faithful love is recognizable because he will observe the Word of Jesus Christ. This observing also means guarding and maintaining the word. This verb suggests the style with which we must treat the Word: it is not just keeping it under lock and key like a precious treasure, but looking at it often, gazing at it, and pondering it in one’s heart. It is a gift of the One we love, and we can never tire of looking at it and listening to it, meditating it, and pondering it.

Whoever devotes himself to this love of Jesus and to the keeping of his word, will be loved by the Father. This happens not so much because the Father does love also the others. On the contrary, his love, in any case, is prior to that of man and is not conditioned by it in any sense. Whoever loves the Son will be loved by the Father in the sense that, in listening to the word and in the desire to be united with God, he will understand this love that is poured out on him and he can rejoice in it. His love makes him welcome. He opens his heart to the Father and to the Son who can take up residence with him. This aspect of the dwelling was very important to the people of Israel. The Lord had promised several times that he would come to live among them (Cfr. Ez 37.26-27; Zech 2.14) and Solomon himself was surprised how God had accepted to take up residence in the Temple of Jerusalem (1 Kings 8, 27). Now, thanks to the incarnation, the human heart is capable of welcoming God (2 Cor 6:16; Eph 3:17).

Furthermore, loving Jesus means living like him, in the love of the Father and the brothers. Leaving us, Jesus does not leave us orphans: he sends us his Spirit, which allows us to love like him. If before it was with us, from now on he will be in us. The one who loves is the home of the beloved: he carries it in his heart as his life. We have always been in God, who loves us with eternal love. If we love him, he is in us like us in him.

  • To obey is to listen to the Beloved and observe his word.

            Pope Francis teaches: “What does it mean to obey God? Does that mean we have to be like slaves, all tied up? No, because those who obey God are free, they are not slaves! And how is this done? I obey, I don’t do my will and am I free? It seems a contradiction. It is not a contradiction “. In fact, «to obey comes from the Latin, and it means to listen, to feel the other. To obey God is to listen to God, to have an open heart to go on the road that God shows us. Obedience to God is listening to God. And this makes us free “(April 11, 2013).

In the passage of the Gospel of this Sixth Sunday of Easter, Jesus links the love for Him with the observance of His word: “If one loves me, he will keep my word” (“to keep my word” here means both guarding and putting into practice).

Why is it so important to obey God? Why does God want so much to be obeyed? For sure, it is not for the sake of control. He is a Father who wants children and not slaves. These children are called to love Him through obedience, because love is really an affirmation of another, of the Other: it is obedience practiced as an affirmation of a presence as a criterion of life.

Obedience to God is important because, while we are obeying Him, we do his will of goodness and perfection and we want the same things that He wants. By doing this we fulfill our original vocation that is to be “in his own image”. We are in truth, in light and, as a consequence, in peace like the body when it reaches its state of quiescence. Dante Alighieri managed to gather all this in one of the most beautiful verses of the whole Divine Comedy: “e ’n la sua volontate è nostra pace” (Dante Alighieri, Heaven, 3,85), which means literally “in His will is our peace”.

To understand that Christ’s word is not an order nor an imposition but a law of loving freedom, we must ask the Lord to make us understand that love is not to give what we have, but what we are. Then, we want what others are and not only what others own. Giving our things to others is not love, love is giving ourselves to others. It i not a case that in the Holy Bible love is identified as obedience, because obedience is the giving of oneself. “Whoever loves me will keep my word…Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me” said Jesus during his Last Supper[1].

Christian obedience is, first of all, an attitude of love. It is that particular kind of listening that exists between close friends, enlightened by the certainty that a friend who gives his life for his friend has only good things to say and to give to his friends. It is a listening, full of confidence that makes us welcoming Christ’s will, and make us sure that it will be for the good.

Obedience to God is the path toward growth and, therefore, the path of one’s freedom because it allows the acceptance of a plan or a will other than our own. It is a path that not only does mortify or diminish but is indeed the foundation of human dignity.

 

  • Obeying is living in freedom.

               As long as there is no love, one obeys “forced” by different rules more or less rigid and more or less numerous. When there is love, one listens to the loved one’s will and he is happy to put it into practice. Christian obedience is free and makes one’s free because this obedience to God coincides also with “the true goodness of Man”, of every man. For a Christian, loving God implies obviously the obedience to His will for a supreme good: peace and friendship with God and with men (see the “law of Beatitudes” given by Jesus during His Sermon on the Mount).

The Virgin Mary is, after Christ, the greatest example of obedience, love, and freedom. She welcomed the Word of God with supreme freedom. She has faithfully “kept the word” (= guarded and put into practice) the gift of God’s Love, which, thanks to her obedient yes was incarnated and has come to live in us and among us. She obeyed to the supreme law of love. With her free yes, she has let the truth and the love of God enter into her heart and into the heart of every human being who like her says yes to the gift of God. Then God places his home in the human heart.

He is not just any God: He is the living God, who is Love, who creates freedoms in His own image, who delivers from death by the cross of Easter, who opens to man, in the Holy Spirit, the infinite space of true freedom.
Believing in this God is not to adhere to a theory, and it is not to have an opinion on the divine and the human. To believe is to recognize a Presence who loves us. In fact, “faith comes from the impact of the love of Jesus with the heart of man. Faith is the initiative of the love of Jesus Christ into man’s heart.” (Benedict XVI).

  • Love is happiness.

               An Augustinian monk, who has remained anonymous, has written: “Friendship is a virtue, but being loved is not a virtue, it is happiness”. We need to be loved, then we can love. We need to be happy to be loved, then we can communicate this love full of joy to others, observing the commandment of love.

The love for Christ is the free and complete answer to the original choice that He has made, an answer that cannot be a vague feeling, but it comes through an attentive listening to the word of truth that Christ has told us, the word of life, the saving word, the word welcomed, cultivated in the heart and then lived.

Whoever truly loves the Lord listens to Him, follows Him, lets God guide him because he knows that obeying Him is not something onerous, but it is a sign of love that talks about desire, affection, friendship, and belonging. Moreover, today, in the short passage from the Gospel, love is also the place of the meeting with the Father, the place where the Father and the Son, Jesus, put their home: “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him”. The Gospel of charity asks to build houses of charity, a community of living charity, which is a tangible sign of the newness of Christ in history and humble but fruitful yeast in our individualistic and conflictual society. The hearts of these communities are the consecrated Virgins. These women testify that love is self-giving, and the giving of oneself has proof in this: you cannot own anything since you do not own yourself. They have gladly given all to Love and they diffuse this Love gladly.

Furthermore, with their existence given entirely to God the consecrated Virgins show 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 will also love him and manifest myself to him “(Jn 14:21).

As Saint Ambrose said: “The consecrated virgins are in the world a sign of true beauty”. The beauty of consecrated life is also the underlying theme of the post-synodal Exhortation Vita Consecrata, extensively developed starting from the icon of the Transfiguration. “How beautiful it is to stay with you, Lord, to dedicate ourselves to you, to focus our existence exclusively on you!” In fact, whoever has received the grace of this special communion of love with Christ, feels himself enraptured by his splendor: he is “the most beautiful of the sons of man” (Ps 45 [44], 3) “(15).

This Sunday I recommend you two texts of St. Thomas, they are two “almost” patristic lectures.

Prayer for the Obedience of St. Thomas Aquinas

“O Lord my God, help me to be obedient without reserve, poor without servility, chaste without compromise, humble without pretense, joyful without depravity, serious without affectation, active without frivolity, submissive without bitterness, truthful without duplicity, fruitful in good
works without presumption, quick to revive my neighbor without haughtiness, and quick to edify others by word and example without simulation. Grant me, O Lord, an ever-watchful heart that no alien thought can lure away from You; a noble heart that no base love can sully; an upright heart that no perverse intention can lead astray; an invincible heart that no distress can overcome; an unfettered heart that no impetuous desires can enchain. O Lord my God, also bestow upon me understanding to know You, zeal to seek You, wisdom to find You, a life that is pleasing to You, unshakable perseverance, and a hope that will one day take hold of You.”

Lecture (almost) Patristics

From the Opuscula Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas

The law of divine love

“It is evident that not all are able to labor at learning and for that reason, Christ has given a short law. Everyone can know this law and no one may be excused from observing it because of ignorance. This is the law of divine love. As scripture says, The Lord will quickly execute sentence upon the earth. 

This law should be the standard for all human actions. In the case of products of human manufacture, each product is considered right and good when it conforms to a standard. So also each human act is considered right and virtuous when it conforms to the standard of divine love. But when a human act does not conform to the standard of love, then it is not right, nor good, nor perfect.

This law of divine love accomplishes in a person four things that are much to be desired. First, it is the cause of one’s spiritual life. For it is evident that by the very nature of the action what is loved is in the one who loves. Therefore whoever loves God possesses God in himself; for scripture says, Whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. It is the nature of love to transform the lover into the object loved. And so if we love God, we ourselves become divinized; for again, Whoever is joined to God becomes one spirit with him. Augustine adds, “As the soul is the life of the body, so God is the life of the soul.” Thus the soul acts virtuously and perfectly when she acts through charity, and through charity, God lives in her; indeed, without charity, she cannot act; for scripture says, Whoever does not love, remains in death. If a person possesses all the gifts of the Holy Spirit but lacks charity, that person has no life. For it matters not whether one has the grace of tongues, or the gift of faith, or any other gift such as prophecy; these do not bring life without charity. Even if a dead body should be adorned with gold and precious jewels, it nevertheless remains dead.

The second point about charity is that it leads to the observance of the divine commandments. Gregory the Great says that charity is not idle. For charity is present if one is occupied about great things; but if one is not so occupied, charity is not present. We see a lover do great and difficult things because of the one loved, and that is why the Lord says, Whoever loves me will keep my word. Whoever keeps this command and the law of divine love fulfills the whole law.         A third point about charity is that it provides protection against adversity. For misfortune cannot harm one who has charity; rather it becomes useful to that person; as scripture says, All things work for good for those who love God. Furthermore, misfortune and difficulties seem pleasant to the lover, and our own experience verifies this.

A fourth point about charity is that it truly leads to happiness since eternal blessedness is promised only to those who have charity. For all other things are insufficient without charity. You must note that it is only the different degrees of charity, and not those of any other virtues, which constitute the different degrees of blessedness. Many of the saints were more abstemious than the apostles, but the apostles excel all the other saints in blessedness because of their higher degree of charity. And in this way is it possible to see how the charity gets this fourfold result inside us. But it also produces other effects that should not be forgotten: as the forgiveness of sins, the illumination of the heart, the perfect joy, peace, freedom of the children of God and the friendship with God.”

From the Opuscula Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas

[1] Here is the context: 
The passage of this Sunday is the final part of the farewell speech addressed by Jesus to his disciples at the Last Supper, which occupies the entire chapter 14 of the Gospel of John. The beginning of this speech is in the previous chapter (13,33), of which we have already heard a part last Sunday, and which continues in chapters 15-17. Jesus greets his fellows before his passion, but in the same time he also points out what they should do while waiting for his return; his words are not just for the twelve disciples but also for the disciples of all time. Also this time the context is important; therefore I suggest to place it within chapter 14 which presents the following structure: first part: the way to reach the Father (14,1-14); second part: the communion between Jesus and his community (14,15-26); third part: the departure of Jesus and the gift of peace (14,27-31).

About Francesco Follo

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