Thought for the Day – 3 September – The Memorial of St Pope Gregory the Great (540-604)
Father & Doctor of the Church
“Father of the Fathers”
“Servant of the Servants”
Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily – General Audience – 4 June 2009
St Pope Gregory the Great “Servant of the Servants” “Servus Servorum Dei”
“Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it, Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person – here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.
Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognise daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility : “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself, instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.
He wanted to be – and this is his expression – “Servus Servorum Dei”. Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made Himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way.
His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.”