As we face the promise of military action to counteract military action in Syria … As we hear the cries of the shrinking Christian population in the Middle East, where Christianity was born … As we hear the drum beats of other nations criticising each other with increasing vehemence, perhaps it is time to sit and read of the dilemmas and struggles of a leader from the distant past.
Gregory (540 – 604) was born in Rome and was a civil servant, the usual path for a man of an aristocratic family; he became Rome’s Prefect.
In time, Gregory became a monk and then he founded a monasteries in Rome and in Sicily. As a deacon he was sent as an envoy to Constantinople.
History tells us that Gregory was the first monk –likely to be living the Rule of Benedict– to be elected Pope. His papacy was reform-minded when it came to property, service, concern for the poor and marginalized, the Church’s liturgical life, including sacred music. You can say that Gregory had a working relationship with people in tension with the Church, especially the Barbarians threatening the peace of peoples.
Gregory lived at the crossroads of history. Ancient Rome was breathing its last and the idea of Christendom was just beginning to take hold. Literally, there were barbarians at the gates. Much was entrusted to him; just as much is entrusted to us. Read his words:
I am forced to consider questions affecting churches and monasteries and often I must judge the lives and actions of individuals; at one moment I am forced to take part in certain civil affairs, next I must worry over the incursions of barbarians and fear the wolves who menace the flock entrusted to my care; now I must accept political responsibility in order to give support to those who preserve the rule of law; now I must bear patiently the villainies of brigands, and then I must confront them, yet in all charity.
My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about. When I try to concentrate and gather all my intellectual resources for preaching, how can I do justice to the sacred ministry of the word? I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world and sometimes I relax the discipline of my speech. If I preserved the rigorously inflexible mode of utterance that my conscience dictates, I know that the weaker sort of men would recoil from me and that I could never attract them to the goal I desire for them. So I must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter. Because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle talk and I find myself saying the kind of thing that I didn’t even care to listen to before.
As I read the bold statements by my friends and allies, my fellow Christians, and the politically savy, I am unconvinced of the absoluteness of their positions. I see more gray than black and white. I hear the lessons of history whispering in the winds of war. I feel the tug of “justice, right, and the American way.” I feel the angst of Gregory. I smell the fear of the helpless poor, damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
Christian faith preaches hope in the face of despair. I want to shout my resounding vote on action, but the conviction is not there. Prayer seems an escape. “I am weak myself.” Gregory, we turn to you to intercede for us as we face our own crossroads of history. God of love, show us the way to peace, justice, and salvation. Help us to be strengthened by the little gifts of love we experience all along the way. Fortify our faith and trust by witnessing the promise of fidelity between young spouses. May we value each moment, each life, each miracle and renew our better nature by Your grace.