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Hearing the Word of God
St. Gregory, Pope and Doctor
Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D.
(PL 76, Hom. 10 in Ezekiel I, col. 886, pars. 1-5; Ezechiel iii. 10.  
Passages related to the Gospel extracted to elucidate some of its deeper meanings.)
Son of man, receive in thy heart and hear with thy ears all the words that I speak to thee (Ezechiel iii. 10).

1. There are those who when they read the sacred pages of the Divine Word, and have reached into its sublimer meanings, are disposed through a certain presumption of mind to disregard its simpler messages, as though given for those of simpler understanding, and are even inclined to change their meaning into something wholly different.  Such men, if they rightly understood the sublimer things contained in the divine pages, would be far from neglecting its simpler messages; for the divine teaching speaks of certain great truths in a manner suited even to the minds of some children, who by steps of the mind as it were, grow in discernment, and come to an understanding of the loftier truths.  For this reason the Lord here said to the holy prophet (regarding the divine book): Son of man, eat all that thou shalt find.

2. For whatever is found in Sacred Scripture is to be eaten; even its least words bring calm and order to simple men, and its higher teachings instruct the minds of the more discerning.  Then the Lord goes on: Eat this book and go speak to the children of Israel.  And I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that book (Ez. lii. 1, 2).

3.  For the Sacred Scripture is our food and drink.  And, because it is, the Lord warned us again through another prophet, saying: I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord (Amos viii. 11).  We therefore, who have been deprived of His sacred word, have, He says, become weak from hunger and thirst, because, as He shows us, His words are our food and drink.  Note how at times His words are called our food and at times our drink.  For in the deeper truths, those that cannot be grasped unless they are explained to us, the Sacred Scripture is our food.  For whatever needs to be explained that we may assimilate it, must be as it were masticated before we can swallow it.  In truths that are clearer to us, His words are our drink.  For we swallow a drink without need to chew it. . . . And so we drink in the more evident truths: for even when they are not explained to us, we are able to understand them.  And since Ezechiel was to hear many divine truths that were obscure and difficult to grasp, the Lord did not say to him concerning the first volume: Drink; but, Eat.  As though the Lord were to say in simple terms: First masticate this, and then swallow it; that is, study it well, and then understand it.  And this is the way we should study the divine words, so that we may know them, in that repenting of our iniquity, and knowing now the evil of the sins we have committed, we shall avoid committing them again.

4. And when after many tears we have come to have confidence in the forgiveness of our sins, let us draw others also towards the true life by means of these words we now have come to understand.  For it is for this reason we must understand them: that they may be a means of help to ourselves, and that they may, by our spiritual effort, be also bestowed on others.  So rightly does He here say: Eat this book and go speak to the children of Israel.  As though He said to him concerning this sacred food: Eat, and be fed: be filled, and give forth; receive my word, and spread it among others; be strengthened, and labour:

5. And let us note what the prophet goes on to say: And I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that book.  Another prophet testifies that the mouth means the heart, saying: With deceitful lips and with a double heart have they spoken (Ps. xi. 3).  We therefore open our mouths when we prepare our minds to understand His Sacred Word.  And so at the voice of the Lord the prophet opens his mouth; for the heart longs for the bread of the Lordís Teaching, that we may taste something of the food of Life.  But even this is not within our power, unless He feeds us Who has commanded us to eat.  For he is given food, who of himself is unable to eat.  And since our human infirmity is unable to grasp heavenly words, He feeds us Who in due season gives is our measure of wheat (Lk. xii. 42), in that while today we understand in the Sacred Word what yesterday we could not, and when tomorrow likewise we understand what today we cannot grasp, we are through the grace of divine providence being nourished with daily bread.  For as often as Almighty God opens our understanding and places in our minds the food of His sacred words, so often does He stretch forth His hand to the mouth of our heart.  He therefore gives us to eat of the book, when He opens our understanding by giving us to understand the meaning of Sacred Scripture, and when He fills our thoughts with its sweetness.  And so He goes on:

V.3.  And he said to me: Son of man, thy belly shall eat, and thy bowels shall be filled with this book which I give thee.  And I did eat it: and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.

Hear the Words of the Lord.

V. 10.  And he said to me: Son of man, receive in thy heart and hear with thy ears all the words that I speak to thee.

Let us carefully note that the prophet is told by the voice of the Lord, first to listen to His words, and afterwards speak them.  For we shall hear Godís words when we do this.  And when we have first done this, then shall we safely speak them to our neighbours.  And this the Evangelist Mark rightly confirms, telling us of a miracle the Lord wrought, saying: And they bring to him one deaf and dumb; and they besought him that he would lay his hand upon him (Mk. vii. 31).  And he describes to us the order in which He cured him.  He put his fingers in his ears: and spitting, he touched his tongue, And, looking up to heaven, he groaned and said to him: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened.  And immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed and he spoke right.

What does it mean that God the Creator of all things, when He willed to heal the man who was deaf and dumb, put His fingers in the manís ears, and, spitting, touched his tongue?  What is signified by the Fingers of the Redeemer, if not the gifts of the Holy Ghost?  And this is the reason why He said in another place, when He had cast out a devil: If I by the finger of God cast out devils, doubtless the kingdom of God is come upon you (Lk. xi. 20).  And it is recorded by another evangelist that He said: If I by the spirit of God cast out devils, then is the kingdom of God come upon you (Mt. xii. 28).  So from either place we gather that the Spirit is called the Finger of God.  Therefore, to put His Fingers in the manís ears, is to open the soul of the deaf man to faith through the gifts of the Holy Ghost. 

And what does it mean that, spitting, He touched his tongue?  For us the saliva from the Redeemerís mouth means the wisdom contained in the divine word.  For saliva flows from the head into the mouth.  So when our tongue is touched by that wisdom which He is, it is thereupon made ready to preach His words.  And looking up to heaven, he groaned; not that He had need to groan Who Himself granted what (as man) He prayed for, but to teach us to groan to Him Who rules in heaven, that our ears also may be opened by the gifts of His Holy Spirit, and our tongue loosed by the saliva of His Mouth, that is, by the knowledge of His divine words, so that we shall proclaim them.

And then He said to the man: Ephpheta, which is, Be thou opened; and immediately his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed.  And let us here note, that it was because of closed ears it was said: Be thou opened.  And to him the ears of whose heart are opened to faith, there will without doubt also follow that the string of his tongue shall be loosened; so that he may speak to others, and encourage them so that they also may do the good he himself has done.  And here, fittingly, was added: And he spoke right.  For he speaks right who first obeying God, does what he tells others they must do.  Therefore, in all that our mind dwells on, in all that we do, let us pray that we shall at all times meditate according to His inspiration, and act by His aid, Who lives and reigns with the Father, in the Unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end.  Amen.