Friday, November 24, 2006

33rd Friday in Ordinary Time (II)
Memorial of St. Andrew Dung Lac & Companions, Martyrs
Sweet and Sour

Readings: Revelations 10:8-11; Psalm 119:14, 24, 72, 103, 111, 131; Luke 19:45-48

As many will recall, on September 12th of this year our Pope, Benedict XVI, gave a speech which provoked many strong and diverse reactions from all quarters. Many in the Islamic world, for example, protested vehemently over his comments about Islam and its association with violence. Several Catholic churches were attacked and a nun was killed in Somalia. There were also, of course, those who supported the pontiff who himself saw it fit to apologize, even though he didn’t quite retract his statements. So was the Pope imprudent in speaking as he did at the time? Or was he being prophetic? We probably each have our own opinions on the issue. Our purpose here is not so much to make a judgment on the Pope’s speech as it this to use it as an illustration of an inevitable tension that all Christians have to struggle with if they wish to be faithful to the Word of God.

We see this tension described in our readings today. What happens when the Word of God come to John the visionary? He is re-commissioned as a prophet. He is called to prophesy again…about many different nations… But his reception of the Word is not a wholly pleasant experience. Although the Word is sweet to the taste, it turns sour in his stomach. What are we to make of this experience?

The gospel helps to illumine the matter. Consider Jesus’ own experience. On the one hand, the people as a whole hung on his words. They were attracted to the things he said. On the other hand, however, Jesus was not all sweetness. He also said and did challenging things, things which must have seemed very sour to some. We are told today, for example, that because he drove out the peddlers from the Temple, the elite in society, the chief priests and scribes, the leading citizens, were turned off, even to the extent of trying to do away with him.

Isn’t this also what we can expect if we, in our turn, are to take seriously the implications of God’s Word in our own lives? Aren’t we also called to struggle with the inevitable tension of knowing when to speak an attractive and popular word and when we are instead being called to offer something less comfortable, something less convenient to hear? Isn’t this the same struggle we find in the lives of the martyrs? We are told, for example, that the priest Andrew Dung Lac actually changed his name from Dung to Lac in an effort to avoid the attention of the authorities. But he was unsuccessful and ultimately gave his own life for the faith.

Today, how are we being called to welcome God’s Word, and to struggle with both the sweet and sour in our lives and in our world?

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