This evening I have the privilege of celebrating Mass for the St. John Vianney Vocations Society here in Birmingham. Here is the brief homily that I have prepared to give. (If you are going to be there, and are reading this beforehand, act like you’ve never read/heard it before when I’m giving it at Mass. Thanks 🙂 )
St. Gregory the Great is one of the great doctors of the Church, and one of the few popes to have the title “great” appended to his name. He lived in the second half of the sixth century, which was a turbulent time in Italy and in Europe. And he would have preferred to live the life of a monk – which he did enjoy for a time, but God then called him to the very public and active role of Pope. Setting aside his preferences, Gregory responded yes to God, and strove to fulfill his responsibilities faithfully. And Christ did great things through him.
Just as, in today’s gospel, the Lord Jesus felt a certain urging to continue to other towns to preach rather than remaining in one place, so also Pope St. Gregory did not focus on just one place – for example, on building up the city of Rome. Rather, he devoted his attention to the entire Church, and carried on extensive correspondence with key figures far and wide. He understood that he had the role given to Peter of “confirming the brethren”: so where the faith already was, he strove to make it stronger, and where the faith had not yet arrived, he endeavored to send it. In this regard he also imitated Ss. Paul and Apollos from our first reading – in some places he sowed the seed, in other places he watered it; but it was always God who gave the growth.
In the area of missionary activity, in particular, St. Gregory is famous for having sent a certain group of monks, led by one Augustine, to England, to evangelize that land. We now know the leader as St. Augustine of Canterbury, and thanks to his work under the direction of Pope St. Gregory, England was a strongly Catholic country for nearly 1,000 years – until Henry VIII. And even though the Church was very badly damaged by Henry and his successors, it was never fully extinguished, so well had it been planted there; indeed, today some statistics indicate that the largest group of church-goers in England are Roman Catholics.
Pope St. Gregory made many other contributions to the great richness of the Church – to our theology, to our understanding of scripture, to our worship. But the most important contribution he made of all was his heroic virtue, his sanctity of life. In giving his life totally to the Lord in an heroic manner he has set an example for us to follow, and now from heaven he is able to obtain for us the special graces we need to do so. He is a saint, and so he is our friend and our help. What is the Lord Jesus asking of you and of me? What seeds does he wish for us to plant? Where does he desire us to water the growth that has already begun? Where does he want us to go with his message? As we reflect, in these next moments of silence, on today’s readings and on what the Lord is asking of us, we pray also that St. Gregory the Great will help us, by his intercession, to fulfill the mission of sanctity that the good Lord has entrusted to each one of us. Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.
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