To follow is an exodus towards Love
Today’s Roman Rite Gospel presents to us the Messiah that starts his journey towards Jerusalem. Jesus travels towards the Holy City (Lk 9, 51) with knowledge, courage and determination. The Greek expression which has been translated with the Latin adverb “decisively”, says that Christ “Made his face like stone” rendering very well the intensity of the love with which the Son of God welcomes and obeys the Father’s will.
Jesus Christ knows that in Jerusalem his destiny of love will be completed and that his mission of Redeemer will find its accomplishment with the arrest, the trial and the death sentence. He has no hesitation and, with a firm heart and resolution, starts his journey towards the Holy City, driven by the love for the Father and the whole of humanity.
During this journey the Gospels tell us about some anonymous people that the Messiah, Pilgrim of eternity, calls to Him because He loves them.
They are people with whom every one of us can identify. These “anonymous” people are fascinated by Christ and have a strong desire to follow Him. He has become their center of love and they perceive that life will not be any more common or desperate. He transforms a man in a saint, the true man. It is really worth it to follow Him even if in order to do so they must abandon their lives in God’s hands.
To follow is always an exodus from oneself as Pope Francis has clearly expressed: “It is Christ who called you to follow him in the consecrated life and this means continuously making an “exodus” from yourselves in order to center your life on Christ and on his Gospel, on the will of God, laying aside your own plans, in order to say with St Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). This “exodus” from us means setting out on a path of adoration and service. (Pope Francis to the Superiors General May 8, 2013). This is not just valid for the nuns that were in the assembly with him.
All Christians must follow Christ. This implies, today as well as two thousand years ago, the personal adventure of searching for Him and of going with Him. It implies also to get out from our selfishness and to break the individualism that often characterizes today’s society.
Why should we center our life on Christ? Why abandon everything to follow this man who doesn’t promise money or land and speaks “only” of love, poverty and perfection?
Because he is the only one who has words of everlasting life, words that explain life. Words that give meaning and unity to an existence that would be confused and fragmentary.
To follow the Neighbor: God with us.
These are words that make our existence happy in the truth of infinite love: they sanctify it. Justice doesn’t fill our heart. Christ calls us to follow Him and proposes to go beyond justice not with a theory on love but with the experience of love, the experience of a love that becomes our neighbor and that overcomes death.
The true antidote to death is not life (which surrenders to death) but love. The one, who in his life follows Christ, lives in God’s love and has already in him the resurrected life of Christ. With this anticipated resurrection that permeates his life on Earth he goes towards death and conquers it: “For Love is strong as Death, longing is fierce as Sheol.” (Song of Songs 8:6) Saint John in his first letter writes: “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death.” (1 John 3:14) Grace in Christ becomes an event. Death is not any more a defeat. In Jesus Christ death has become an act of love.
The life of the Christian men and women is to follow Christ: Love is the destiny of the Christian disciple. (Eph 1, 5). If we follow Him, we are beside Him who becomes our neighbor. If we put our feet on his path, we become every day nearer to our only destination: God the source of the happiness for which we all are made.
In Christ the desire of infinite and of being God becomes a reality because following Christ’s Way and Life we imitate His sanctity. The disciple of Christ doesn’t decline to be similar to God and to be with God: “Dii estis” (or become gods, as Saint Paul reminds us to do). The disciple is so in the obedience to the Redeemer and in the abandonment to the Father.
Some years ago, people used to speak about the concept of “principle-hope.” I prefer to speak of the principle-mercy. In its name, we Church-God’s people, are called to offer Christ’s love to every one by announcing His words and what He has done, His proximity and His concern for the spiritual and material suffering of humanity. Christ’s dedication to the Father and to our poor humanity up to the point of giving His own life shows to us and through us to the world, who God is: Love that donates himself forever, Love that freely dedicates himself to the creation injured and torn apart by sin.
To follow is to imitate
To follow is not only identification, but also imitation above all through virginity.
The apostles and the ones called to him in today’s Gospel did not adhere to an organization but they have entered in communion with the Lord who was inviting them to follow Him. They have imitated Him with truth and love and their heart has changed. It has been converted from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. (See Ez 36:28). To follow has been for them and must be for us a listening packed with life and an identification with Christ and doing so we become his disciples.
It is very important to remember that Christian matrimony and consecrated virginity are two “opposite” ways to live in the Church the condition of disciples. These two ways however coincide in the fact that each of them is the completed sign of the wedding of Christ to the Church because every one of us is called to the impeccable charity.
Regarding virginity it is important to remember what Saint Augustine of Hippo teaches: “Follow the Lamb, because the flesh of the Lamb is a virgin… follow him wherever he goes right through your virginity of heart and flesh. What does it mean to follow if not to imitate? For Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, as the Apostle Peter says, “that we might follow in his footsteps” (1Pt2:21). The charity towards Christ could not be satisfied with simple bonds of affection with him. It had an absolute need to reveal itself with the imitation of His virtues and in a special way with conformity to His life entirely consecrated to what is right and to the salvation of humanity.
May the “virgo sacrata” and “sponsa Christi” be a disciple of the Lord because of the anointment of the Spirit: “The consoling Spirit …through our ministry consecrates you with a new spiritual anointment” (RCV 29). In the final benediction it is affirmed: “The Holy Spirit has today consecrated your hearts” (RCV 56)
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13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1Kgs 19:16.19-21; Ps 16; Gal 5:1.13-18; Lk9:51-62
Only you have words of everlasting life
VI Sunday of Pentecost
Ex 24:3-18; Ps 49; Heb8:6-13a; Jh19:30-35
“It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.
Monsignor Francesco Follo is permanent observer of the Holy See to UNESCO, Paris.