Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pope St. Gregory the Great

Today, September 3, is the feast day of St. Gregory.

Gregory was content to be a monk, but he willingly served the Church in other ways when asked. He sacrificed his own preferences in many ways, especially when he was called to be Bishop of Rome. Once he was called to public service, Gregory gave his considerable energies completely to this work. In the fourteen years of his pontificate, he crowded work enough to have exhausted the energies of a lifetime.
When Gregory became pope in 590 (the first monk ever to become pope), the world was in chaos. Things were so bad Gregory sincerely believed the end of the world was at hand. But he reached a peace accord with the Lombards in 593, administered a great relief program for the poor, helped organize political order in our troubled empire, developed church music and liturgy, wrote an important book on Pastoral Care, and expanded upon Christian doctrine such as his teaching on purgatory. He is associated with creating the form of music that has come to be known as Gregorian chant.

What makes his achievements more wonderful is his constant ill-health. He suffered almost continually from indigestion and, at intervals, from attacks of slow fever, while for the last half of his pontificate he was a martyr to gout. In spite of these infirmities, which increased steadily, his biographer, Paul the Deacon, tells us "he never rested". He was the first Pope to use the term “servant of the servants of God”. No wonder he was called “great” and shortly after his death in 604 AD, he was canonized a saint by public acclaim. It is interesting to note that he was reluctant to be a Pope, and preferred the secluded life of a monk. To this end, Pope Gregory the great had to say:

"Perhaps it is not after all so difficult for a man to part with his possessions, but it is certainly most difficult for him to part with himself. To renounce what one has is a minor thing; but to renounce what one is, that is asking a lot" (St. Gregory, Homilies on the Gospels).

What an awesome Pope.

And truly great as well.

St. Gregory, pray for us.

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