Pope St. Gregory the Great and Humility
September 3rd Readings Reflection: Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, a Doctor of the Church who lived in the 6th century AD. It is he who sent missionaries to convert the people of England, having allegedly said of them, “Not Anglos, but angels.” He became pope in the midst of a famine and a plague, during a time when the Church was in need of reform. He made many great contributions to the Catholic Church in a variety of areas, yet he always emphasized the importance of humility. In his book, On Pastoral Care, which he wrote for the bishops of the Church, Pope Gregory said:
Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable.
In today’s Gospel, we see the Pharisees doing the exact opposite of Pope Gregory. Upon seeing Jesus’ disciples picking heads of grain to eat, the Pharisees accused them of breaking the sabbath. Jesus, in turn, told them that “[t]he Son of Man is [L]ord of the sabbath.”
The Pharisees were so concerned with upholding the letter of the law that they forgot what the heart of the Law is: to serve and glorify God. For them, the law lost all true spiritual meaning and instead simply became a matter of externals; this is why Jesus so often accused the Pharisees of obeying the law simply for show, while interiorly, their hearts were not fixed on God.
St. Gregory the Great staunchly upheld the religious vow of poverty and fiercely defended the authority of the papacy throughout his life. However, he did all of this, not for his own benefit, but for the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God. Unlike the Pharisees, he was truly humble of heart, calling himself “the servant of the servants of God” (Servus Servorum Dei).
Today, may we ask St. Gregory’s intercession for us, that we may cultivate true humility in our hearts, in order that our acts of devotion not be merely external, but rather reflect our love for God.
St. Gregory, ora pro nobis!