Don Franco Follo
1) We are not orphans.
This Sunday the liturgy continues the reading of Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John. The theme is love, as it appears from the beginning (“if you love me“) (Jn 14,15) and the conclusion (“whoever loves me will be loved by my Father and I will love him and manifest myself to Him “) (Jn 14:21) of today’s Gospel. The disciples, terrified by the real possibility that the Master could die, are comforted by Jesus who opens their hearts calling them” friends “and not” servants “, giving them the Eucharist, and opening a new way, that of the love given to the world through the Cross. His Cross is the concrete revelation of God who loves to the full gift of self, and a sign of his unlimited presence in the world. On the Cross Christ does not fail but brings to the full the manifestation of His immense love: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jn 15: 12-18).
Jesus teaches to his disciples that his donated Love is the strength that allows not to be locked into a confined past, but to be open to a future perceived as the space of their loyalty to Him in a community and in the world. Only the disciple who accepts the reality of Jesus’ death can open up to a new relationship with the Crucified Risen. The true “following” begins with Easter, an event that returns Jesus to the believer in a new way.
The Cross is not the end, but the beginning of a new path and of a relationship with Jesus Christ that has become indestructible. With his death and resurrection, He opens the “Way” leading to the “Truth” of the experience of God who “Life” in full.
On the evening of the first Holy Thursday, the scared Apostles are consoled by Christ who, in addition to proclaiming His love, tells them “I will not leave you orphans.” That evening, Jesus seemed concerned not so much for himself as for his friends, who would know the depth of their weakness and the great pain of abandonment, and would look for something to comfort them. Jesus himself would be consoled by the presence of an Angel during his agony in Gethsemane, at the time when the desire to escape the crucifixion could also be born in him. “Father, if possible, keep away from me this cup, but not mine, but thy will be done.” It is amazing how Jesus, who promised us the Consoler, wanted to be a ‘man of all time’: a man, every man, who knows the abyss of test and solitude. But in the end the design of realizing the great design of Love for us triumphed.
Even today Jesus repeats to us, “I will not leave you orphans.” These words were, are and will always be a certainty for those who follow Him, yesterday, today and always. He said these words at the most difficult time of his earthly existence and, almost becoming the voice of our fear of being abandoned by everyone, to the point of crying from the cross: “My God, my God, why did you abandon me?” (Mt 26: 46). The Risen Christ tells us that the One who loves is the home of the beloved: he brings him into 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 as we are in him.
2) If you love me …
“If you love me you will keep my commands” (Jn 14:15). The words of this verse are repeated as a refrain in verses 21, 23 and 24. This is not an injunction (you must comply) but a revelation of goodness: “if “you love, you will enter a new world. Everything begins with the conjunction “if”, a word filled with delicacy and respect: if you love me. “If”: a starting point so humble, so free, so confident that helps us to understand that to observe the commandments of Christ is not to obey to an external law, but to live in love like Him. Just as the first Apostles of Christ and of the Gospel were moved by love lived as a law, we too, moved by the love of Christ, are moved to carry on the task of bringing to the world the love of God made flesh.
If we love Christ, He lives in our thoughts, actions and words and changes them. By doing so, we live his good, beautiful, and happy life. If we love Jesus and observe his commandment of love, not only we do not hurt, betray, steal, lie and kill, but we help, welcome and bless.
If it is true that today’s theme is love, as I said at the beginning of these reflections, it is equally true that the dominant ideas are two. The first is that the most appropriate criterion to verify the reality of love for Christ is the obedience to his will, that is, the concrete observance of the commandments, which in Saint John are reduced to the commandment of fraternal love. The second one is that the practice of love is the place where Jesus reveals himself.
Love is so that, when we love someone, he or she is in our heart and in our mind and becomes the rule of our life. We know what he or she thinks, what he or she does, and we do what he or she does because we too love what he or she does. In conclusion, love is not only a feeling, but it also concerns all our being:
- It concerns knowledge: we know a person if we love him or her, and “love is the way to know God” (Pope Francis)
- It concerns will: loving is wanting the good of the other person; really wanting his or her good
- It concerns our actions: if it concerns intelligence and will, it concerns our actions; it is acting like the other person.
Therefore, love is a communion in the deep of our being, it is a union of intelligence, will, and action that makes us like Christ, the Son of God, with the same intelligence, the same will, and the same actions.
3) “My” Commandments.
In addition to the conjunction “if”, I would like to draw attention to the possessive pronoun “mine”. Saying, “If you keep the commandments” he says “my” commandments. It is as if to say: the Commandments are mine not because prescribed by me, but because they manifest what I am and your future. They summarize me and my whole life. If you love me, you will live like me and with me”
If we love Christ observing his commandments, He lives in us and changes our thoughts, our actions, our words into thoughts, actions and words of good. Then we participate to his freedom, his peace and to the joy of his living in love.
The testimony that what I am proposing is true, comes from the life of the consecrated Virgins. They show discretely but firmly that a life devoted to practicing his words makes factual the following of Christ as disciples (see Mt 7:24) It is the observance of his commandments which makes concrete the love for Him and attracts the love of the Father (see Jn 14:21). Therefore, there is no love without obedience (“you are my friends, if you do what I command you”), but without love obedience is servile. We are reminded of that by Saint Ambrose who, speaking to the consecrated Virgins, wrote: “With what ties is Christ held? … Not with the knots of ropes, but with the constraints of love and the affection of the soul” (De virginitate, 13.77). Finally, by taking to the letter the lesson of St. Paul “More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him,” (Phil 3: 8-9), these consecrated women live love with” detachment “. The virginal love that they are called to witness to all the baptized, especially to the married couples, realizes the objective and actual good of self and of others if it maintains an attitude of distance. Only in detachment there is true possession in God, because the hands, rather than clinging to each other, are united in prayer. These folded hands open the heart of God who pours his merciful love over humanity.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)
We have heard, brethren, while the Gospel was read, the Lord saying: “If ye love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter [Paraclete], that He may abide with you forever; [even] the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him: but ye shall know Him; for He shall dwell with you, and shall be in you.”1 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 inwhich He gave the promise. “If ye 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 forever: [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.”2 How, then, doth the Lord say, “If ye love me, keep my commandments: and I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter;” when He saith 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 loveth the Son, and loveth not the Father, certainly loveth not the Son, but some figment of his own imagination. And besides, this is the apostolic declaration, “No one saith, Lord Jesus,3 but in the Holy Spirit:4 and who is it that calleth Him Lord Jesus but he that loveth 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 saith of such, “For they profess that they know God, but works they deny Him.”5 If it is by works He is denied, it is doubtless also by works that His name is truly invoked. “No one,” therefore, “saith, Lord Jesus,” in mind, in word, in deed, with the heart, the lips, the labor of the bands,-no one saith, Lord Jesus, but in the Holy Spirit; and no one calls Him so but he that loveth, 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 i 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 love the more. Already, therefore, had the disciples that 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 God.”6 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 ye the Holy Spirit.”7 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?8 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 moreabundantly. For were it not that He was possessed by some in smaller measure than byothers, St. Elisha would not have said to St. Elijah, “Let the spirit that is in thee be in a twofold measure in me.9
3. But when Jn the Baptist said, “For God giveth not the Spirit by measure,”10 he was speaking exclusively of the Son of God, who received not the Spirit by measure; for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead.11 And no more is it independently of the grace of the Holy Spirit that the Mediator between God and men is the man Christ Jesus:12 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 hath anointed me, and hath sent me to preach the gospel to the poor.”13 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.”14 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 hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”15 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.16
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 Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”17 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;”18 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.19 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 seeth Him not, neither knoweth Him.” For worldly love possesseth not those invisible eyes, whereby, save in an invisible way, the Holy Spirit cannot be seen.
5. But ye,” He adds, “shall know Him; 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 guest 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 Augustin has cognoscetis for the second “know,” and scit for that immediately preceding. The Greek text, however, has ginwvskw in both places, and in the present tense. He has also manebit et in vobis erit. The tense of menei, whether, present or future, depends simply on the place of the accent, mevnei, or menei`: while, as between the two readings ejsti;n and e]stai, the preponderance of Ms. authority seems in favor of the latter, although the presentgimwvskete in the principal clause would be more naturally followed by an equally proleptic present in those which follow.-Tr.
2 (Rm 5,5,
3 Or, “Jesus is Lord.” The weight of authority is clearly in favor of the reading followed by Augustin-levgei, Kuvrios jIhsou`”, giving the direct utterance of the speaker; and not the indirect accusative, Kuvrion jIhsou`n, followed by our English version.-Tr.
4 (1Co 12,3).
5 (Tt 1,16,
6 (1Co 2,12,
7 Chap. 20,22.
8 (Ac 2,4,