Today, September 3, is the Memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great.
Gregory Anicius lived from 540 to 604 and reigned as pope from 590 until his death. After serving as an administrator of Rome, Gregory retired to a monastery, dedicating his life to prayer and study. Pope Benedict I called him from the monastery to be his representative to the emperor in Constantinople. After he returned to Rome, Gregory became a close advisor of Pope Pelagius I and, on Pelagius’ death, was elected Supreme Pontiff. By this time, the pope had become a political as well as spiritual leader, and Pope Gregory was responsible for the political management of Rome. He led the city successfully through famines and plagues, administered care to the poor, and negotiated peace with the Lombards. He also found time to write, his most famous works being Pastoral Care, Homilies, and Dialogues. It was Pope Gregory who sent St. Augustine of Canterbury to England in 596 to evangelize the British Isles. Popular legend attributes to him the invention of Gregorian chant. Gregory was the first pontiff to use the title Servus Servorum Dei – “servant of the servants of God.” Along with St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope St. Gregory the Great is recognized as one of the four Doctors of the Latin Church.
From a homily on Ezekiel by Saint Gregory the Great:
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Note that a man whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height so that he can see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height for all his life to help them by his foresight.
How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself. I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.
I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just judge. Indeed when I was in the monastery I could curb my idle talk and usually be absorbed in my prayers. Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters.
I am forced to consider the affairs of the Church and of the monasteries. I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals. I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens. I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians, and beware of the wolves who lie in wait for my flock. I must become an administrator lest the religious go in want. I must put up with certain robbers without losing patience and at times I must deal with them in all charity.
With my mind divided and torn to pieces by so many problems, how can I meditate or preach wholeheartedly without neglecting the ministry of proclaiming the Gospel? Moreover, in my position I must often communicate with worldly men. At times I let my tongue run, for if I am always severe in my judgments, the worldly will avoid me, and I can never attack them as I would. As a result I often listen patiently to chatter. And because I too am weak, I find myself drawn little by little into idle conversation, and I begin to talk freely about matters which once I would have avoided. What once I found tedious I now enjoy.
So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness? Truly the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of mankind can give me in spite of my weaknesses a higher life and effective speech; because I love him, I do not spare myself in speaking of him.
Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, Pope
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.