by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
On Sept. 3, we celebrate the feast day of St. Gregory the Great. He was given this title because of his pivotal ministry at a time of monumental transition in the Church and of the world. Historians view him as one of the prime architects of the modern foundations of Europe. He was the last of those considered part of the Roman Empire and the first pope of the medieval era.
St. Gregory was called the last of the classical teachers and the first of the scholastic teachers. He formed a special bridge that made him a unique figure in the history of the Church, and he had a great gift of eloquence. He was trained as a Roman imperial employee and served as a governor of the Roman province. This experience taught him the value and importance of administration. Ultimately, Gregory left the world to become a monk. He founded a monastery following the rule of St. Benedict. He eventually became an abbot living a life of prayer and fasting.
But he could not hide in the monastery. Gregory was ordained a deacon and sent to Constantinople, the Imperial Court of the time, as a nuncio for the pope and secretary to Pope Pelagius II. With his knowledge of diplomacy, he was able to serve the pope very well. In 589, he returned to Rome just as the pope had died of the plague. Gregory was elected pope by popular acclamation. This gave him an opportunity to influence the life of the Church and to shore up the governance of the Roman Empire that was fading into dissolution because of invasions by the barbarian tribes of the day.
Father of Modern Psychology
Gregory was a tireless worker who wrote many pastoral letters; over 850 are preserved and have survived to this day. His depth of knowledge has prompted some to call him the “Father of Modern Psychology,” as he had great insight into human nature. Gregory was able to assist the Church in these most difficult times. Among the great things attributed to Gregory was the institution of Gregorian Chant. As a monk, he systemized the Divine Office (the psalms, Scripture readings and spiritual readings that priests and religious promise to pray on behalf of the Church) so that to this day these chants are given his name. Gregory can be a great example to us as a man of the world who founded the combination of prayer and contemplation and allowed him at the same time to become a saint and be politically astute.
In 604, Gregory died but not before he had left his mark on the history of the Church. He put out into the deep by giving himself completely to the work set before him. Gregory is also called the “Doctor of Desire.” That desire he had was for God.
In his writing, we find, most interestingly enough, his frustration as he sought not only a life of prayer but also a distraction by the responsibilities of his office. Gregory was, indeed, great because he knew how to balance his responsibilities. Our greatness also can come from asking the Lord to balance our sometimes chaotic lives.