Last Sunday, I attended Mass in a nearby parish, and there was another visiting priest. The Parish Priest was away on a spiritual retreat. I presided at the Mass while the other priest preached the homily. He was very good and made a positive impression in his preaching. The parishioners remained thrilled all through, and when the priest concluded his homily, the congregation gave a spontaneous round of applause. The preaching was sweet in hearing. But living it out? It is a different kettle of fish.
Faith Through Hearing
If “faith comes from hearing”, as Paul affirms in the Letter to the Romans (10:17), then how do we react to that hearing? John, the author of the Book of Revelation, in the First Reading of today, does not have a vision this time, but a hearing, that is, he does not “see” but “hears.” What did he hear? A voice, coming from Heaven, telling him to take a book placed in the hand of an angel, who is “standing” on the sea and on the Earth; and the heavenly creature persuades him to eat it (Rev. 10:8-11). The scene recalls Ezekiel’s vocation-mission, in fact he too was ordered to eat a scroll (Ez 3: 1-3). Ezekiel spoke only of the sweetness of the scroll, but did not mention its bitterness, like John.
Symbols and Meaning
The Book of Revelation is replete with images and symbols. Let us remember that the most important thing is to try to see the message “behind” the images. Eating the book symbolizes the acceptance of the office of the prophet who, in devouring it, welcomes the word of God in the heart. The little book that John ate will be “sweet as honey”, but once it gets into his stomach, he will experience “all its bitterness”. But why? The most plausible interpretation is the fact that the word of God is like a double-aged sword (Heb 4:12); prophetic oracles announce both destruction and salvation, both condemnation and forgiveness, but above all because the prophetic mission foresees both the bitterness of rejection and the sweetness of being the spokesperson of God in this world.
Ambivalence of life
Isn’t there also something in us whose very idea makes our hearts beat faster, setting in motion creative energies that we didn’t even remember having? And we experience its sweetness. At the same time, or at a later time, what seemed to us the most exquisite of foods in the mouth, once it has descended into the bowels – that is, once it has been processed, settled, and partly even experienced – has a completely different flavor. I can readily recall the “sweetness” I felt at my priestly ordination and indeed the first few weeks and months of my priesthood. It was all glorious and rosy. Not long after, the reality and challenges that go with the priestly life started revealing themselves. It is a life that can be best described as “sweet-bitter.” Married life is not in any way different from that. Witnessing a wedding ceremony, one can easily perceive the sweetness of marriage. But is living a married life all sweet? No. Life in general is full of simultaneous conflicting feelings and experiences, a lot of ambivalence. Being a “practicing” Christian is sweet and at the same time comes along with difficult challenges. No wonder Jesus forewarned us when he said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). As if to say: in theory everything is beautiful, in practice not everything.
May God grant us the strength to face the challenges and the bitter part of the sweet choices and values we have embraced in life. Amen.