Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great

In Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s Blog entry On Senator Kennedy’s Funeral, one line stood out for me: "our task is to build a civilization of love." This has ever been the task of the Church, especially when teaching hard truths that run counter to the tenor of the culture and the politics of the day. This, too, was the task of Saint Gregory the Great, who lived in a time of great chaos and suffering and on the cusp of the ancient and medieval worlds. He impacted the Church in so many ways, they are difficult to recount in a short entry, but amongst his great achievements as a politician, administrator, monk, and pope are some basics of the Gospel-driven life: he studied the Scriptures and cared for the poor. As to his practical concern for the poor, A.C. Rush and H. Kester state, 

"With his fine sense of justice as an administrator, Gregory rebuked agents who enlarged the estates by ruthlessly disregarding the rights of others or who kept back goods in time of plenty to sell them at a higher price in time of need, and he insisted that the purse of the Church was "not to be polluted by sinful gain." The patrimonies were Gregory’s means of helping the poor, the destitute, and families displaced or separated by war. Upon his appointment, Gregory had admonished each rector "to care for the poor," and "to promote not so much the worldly interests of the Church but the relief of the needy in their distress." Gregory insisted that he was dispensing not his own property, but the property of the poor, that the goods belonged to St. Peter, who was caring for his flock through Gregory. The papal treasury was used to ransom captives and restore them to their families and to buy peace by paying off the Lombards." (The New Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 6. 2nd ed. Detroit: Gale, 2003, 480)

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What drove St. Gregory's behavior was the knowledge that we all are in preparation for the Kingdom beyond this world, whatever temporal power we have either in the Church or the world of politics. The role of the Church is to speak the truth always and to dispense its power with great mercy and forgiveness. As Paul says in Colossians 1:9-14:

"From the day we heard about you, we do not cease praying for you
and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will
through all spiritual wisdom and understanding
to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,
so as to be fully pleasing, in every good work bearing fruit
and growing in the knowledge of God,
strengthened with every power, in accord with his glorious might,
for all endurance and patience,
with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share
in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
He delivered us from the power of darkness
and transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

We work to "build a civilization of love" because that is the nature of our inheritance and we must bear witness to it at all times and in all ways. We are not, as St. Gregory the Great knew, dispensing our own property, but that of the Kingdom. This is true of our material goods, but even more so our spiritual goods, which we have been bequeathed by "his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

 

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