Today is the Feast of St. Gregory the Great, Pope.
He lived at a time of great change. The Roman Empire had collapsed. The Lombards and other tribes had occupied large parts of Italy. Rome was but a shadow of what it used to be.
Gregory came from a noble Roman family. He started off as the Prefect of Rome, and then left public service and became a monk. He was elected Pope in 590 until his death.
He was an intelligent man and a good administrator. He was also totally committed to the Gospel and the Christian life. He did not seek high office and would have preferred to spend his life as a monk, but accepted the role as Bishop of Rome out of faith commitment.
Gregory was instrumental in sending missionaries to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons under the leadership of St. Augustine, later Archbishop of Canterbury.
When St. Augustine started destroying the pagan sacred places after their conversion to Christianity, Gregory asked him to stop. He said, “do not destroy them but rather baptise them”, i.e. build on the good that is there.
He also worked hard for clarity on Church teaching and combatted errors of his time. He worked hard for Church unity. He lived in a time of plague when large numbers of people died.
While working hard, and very active, he was obviously a holy man. This was so evident to the population that he was proclaimed a Saint very shortly after his death.
Gregory adjusted his life so that he chose to do what God wanted him to do. He preferred a quiet life of prayer, but accepted leadership roles that kept him very busy. He wanted to go and be a missionary and accepted the ministry of administration. He kept on trying to listen to what God was calling him to do.
Prayer is about connecting with God, and about listening to God’s will in our lives.
There is always a dying to self, to the ego and to our preferences, as we put ourselves at the disposal of God.
We can be totally devoted to God’s will and not become narrow-minded as we learn from Gregory’s communications to Augustine. We can learn to see goodness wherever it is.
Challenging times do not have to be an obstacle to living the Gospel.