February/March 2014 - Vol. 72.

.A Mirror to See Inside Ourselves
by Gregory the Great (540-604 AD)
Holy Scripture is presented to the mind's eye like a mirror in which the appearance of our inner being can be seen. 

In this mirror we can see both the ugliness and the beauty of our soul. We can tell what progress we are making or whether we are making any progress at all. 

Holy Scripture recounts the good deeds of the saints and encourages the hearts of the weak to imitate them. In recording the prowess of the saints, Scripture also underlines our weakness in the face of the onslaught of the vices. But its words ensure that the more the soul sees of the triumphs of so many heroes of the faith, the less it is alarmed in the midst of its own battle. 

Sometimes, however, Holy Scripture does not only record the victories of the saints but also mentions their defeats, so that we may see from their failures what we ought to be afraid of, besides learning from their triumphs what we ought to aim at. For example, Job is described in the Bible as being exalted by temptation, whereas David is represented as humiliated by it. 

By this means, our hopes may be nourished by the valor of people in the past, while because of their weakness we may gird on the protection of humility. 

The victories of the saints give our spirits wings through the joy they cause; their failures give us pause through fear. 

From Scripture the soul of the reader learns the confidence of hope and the humility of fear. Thanks to the weight of the fear, it does not have the temerity to be proud; but this fear does not cast it into utter despair, because the soul is fortified in the strength of hope by the examples of valor. 

Gregory the Great (540-604 AD), Commentary on the Book of Job, 2, 1 (SC32, p.180)

 [translation by Thomas Spidlik, Drinking from the Hidden Fountain: A Patristic Breviary, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, Michigan - Spencer, Massachusetts,1994] 

Gregory the Great (540-604 A.D.) was born in Rome into a wealthy noble Roman family with close connections to the church. On his father's death, he converted his family villa into a monastery dedicated to the apostle Saint Andrew. He was ordained a priest, and became one of the pope's seven deacons. He also served six years in the East as papal representative in Constantinople. He was recalled to become abbot, and at the age of 50 was elected pope by the clergy and people of Rome. 

Gregory was content to be a monk, but he willingly served the Church in other ways when asked. He sacrificed his own preferences in many ways, especially when he was called to be Bishop of Rome. Once he was called to public service, Gregory gave his considerable energies completely to this work. He was the first of the popes to come from a monastic background.

He was direct and firm. He removed unworthy priests from office, forbade taking money for many services, emptied the papal treasury to ransom prisoners of the Lombards and to care for persecuted Jews and the victims of plague and famine. He was very concerned about the conversion of England, sending 40 monks from his own monastery.Gregory lived in a time of perpetual strife with invading Lombards and difficult relations with the East. When Rome itself was under attack, he interviewed the Lombard king. 

His book, Pastoral Care, on the duties and qualities of a bishop, was read for centuries after his death. He described bishops mainly as physicians whose main duties were preaching and the enforcement of discipline. In his own down-to-earth preaching, Gregory was skilled at applying the daily gospel to the needs of his listeners. Called "the Great," Gregory has been given a place with Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome, as one of the four key doctors of the Western Church. He is also known as St. Gregory the Dialogist in Eastern Orthodoxy because of his Dialogues

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