Monday, 3 September 2012

Servant of servants


Today is the feast of a saint whose name alone – Pope Gregory the Great – promises an edifying closer look and, if you have been following this blog (e.g., here and here), you will also know that he influences the Church to this day. St. Gregory had a varied and rich career, whose first milestone (after an extensive and broad eduction spanning music, law, mathematics and natural sciences) was to be named Prefect of the City of Rome (effectively its mayor). Following the death of this father, Gregory became a monk though and withdrew from the world, only to be called upon by Pope Pelagius II to act as his ambassador to Constantinople. Instead of being allowed to retire to the monastic life after this mission, he was instead elected pope, very much against his will, and lead the Church for 14 years during which he introduced reforms both in the administration of the Church and in its liturgy.

There would be lots to say about St. Gregory, but I would like to focus only on two points:
  1. His love for the poor and his large-scale charitable work, best expressed by him saying: “I hold the office of steward to the property of the poor.” St. Gregory saw the church as a not-for-profit organization (in secular terms) and distributed the many donations the Church received to the poor - only keeping what was necessary for maintaining its facilities and supporting its personnel.
  2. His reluctance towards being pope, born of a deep humility, very clearly expressed by his adoption of the title “Servant of the servants of God” – by far my favorite papal title and one used to this day by his successors. St. Gregory also emphasized the importance of personal spiritual life for those holding high office in the Church, e.g., by saying “[U]nder the cloak of the Ecclesiastical office, I found myself plunged on a sudden in a sea of secular matters, and because I had not held fast the tranquillity of the monastery when in possession, I learnt by losing it, how closely it should have been held.” This is certainly an attitude I have seen very clearly both in the current pope and his predecessor and in many priests I have known and admire.