Friday, September 2, 2016


Homily for Sept. 3rd, 2015. St. Gregory the Great.

          St. Gregory the Great, the man whom we celebrate today, was born at Rome about 540 of a wealthy aristocratic family which had already given the Church two popes. It was a decaying and chaotic world. There was now no Emperor at Rome. The man who bore that title now ruled Italy from Constantinople. Thanks to his intelligence and family connections, Gregory soon attained high office in civil government. But he was unsatisfied. A conversion experience led him to become a monk in his mid-30s.

          Gregory always looked back on this period of his life as the happiest. It lasted only five years. In 579 the reigning Pope Benedict I summoned Gregory from his monastery, and over his protests ordained him one of the seven deacons of Rome, thus making him one of its top administrative officials. To Gregory’s further dismay, the following Pope Pelagius II soon sent him as papal envoy to the Emperor’s court in Constantinople, where he would remain for the next seven years. Recalled to Rome in 586, Gregory resumed living with his fellow monks, while fully occupied with administrative duties at the papal court.

When Pelagius died in 590, Gregory tried for months to avoid being chosen as his successor, but finally accepted the inevitable. He lived on for another 14 years, suffering often from ill health, but ceaselessly busy attending to the needs of the Church, and those of the city of Rome and the surrounding area as well. To raise the level of the Church’s bishops, he wrote his Pastoral Rule – an important work too little heeded in the centuries to come.

Convinced from his years as a monk of the importance of waiting upon God in silent prayer, Gregory stressed the foundation of such contemplative prayer: the virtue of humility. When the Patriarch of Constantinople saluted him in a letter as “Universal Pope,” Gregory protested that this grandiose title detracted from the honor due his fellow bishops – an early example of what we call today “collegiality.” The best example of Gregory’s humility is the title he originated, and which is still used today in official papal documents: “Servant of the servants of God.” We invoke his prayers for his successor today: Pope Francis.