Monday, September 4, 2017

Pope St. Gregory, Great in his Humility

A friend of mine once said that he thinks we use the word “great” too much to describe people and things. We too easily say that something is great. A trip was great. A baseball player is great. A restaurant was great. He thinks that “great” should be reserved for truly wonderful people and moments; otherwise the word becomes too watered down and loses much of its meaning.

Surely today is an occasion to use the word, however, as we celebrate the patronal feast of St. Gregory the Great here at our parish. St. Gregory (540-604 A.D.) was in fact “great” in the true sense of the word.

19th century mosaic of
St. Gregory the Great
Non Angli sed Angeli
when he first encountered English boys
at a slave market in Rome, sparking his
dispatch of St. Augustine to England

He sent missionaries to Christianize England. Acting like a governor of Rome, he provided for people suffering from disease, poverty and hunger and maintained civil order.  He defended the Roman people from Lombard invaders by negotiating a peace settlement with them. He built monasteries. He promoted the unity of the Church by developing people’s understanding of the papacy. He taught doctrine and virtue and preached courageously against evil and sin and did all of this well; he wrote a number of books on theological topics.

If you or I were to accomplish even just one of these facts I mentioned, we would have a place in history books. 

Interestingly, though, St. Gregory did not want to be praised in the eyes of the world and even fought against this.

In one of his most famous writings, The Book of Pastoral Rule penned in the 6th century, a book written for fellow bishops, St. Gregory states that whenever we accomplish something well or perfectly we should consider our own infirmities and limitations, thereby crushing any sinful pride we might feel about those accomplishments (Pastoral Rule, Book I, Introduction).

St. Gregory himself did not think he was a competent preacher. He mentions also that he had difficulty practicing what he preached.

What a refreshing example this is to us. In our culture we are conditioned to try to make ourselves look successful before others. If anyone had a trophy case of amazing accomplishments to write about and brag to others about it was St. Gregory. Instead we find him writing about Jesus Christ, morality and St. Gregory’s own faults. Instead we find him busy doing the work of helping the poor and serving the Christian community. In this his true greatness lies.

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