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Saint Gregory the Great by José de Ribera
Dr. Roy DeLamotte was an author, Methodist minister, and chaplain at Paine College in Georgia. While there, he preached the shortest sermon in the college’s history. However, he did have a rather long topic: “What does Christ Answer When We Ask, ‘Lord, What’s in Religion for Me?’” The sermon consisted of only one word: “Nothing.” He later explained that the one-word sermon was meant for people brought up on the ‘gimme-gimme’ gospel. He was asked how long it took him to prepare such lengthy sermon. He responded, “Twenty years.”
Gregory the Great, who we celebrate today, was elected Pope in the year 590 and is only one of two Popes to have been given the title “Great”, the other being Leo the First (although John Paul II is at times referred to as John Paul the Great – and rightly so!). Gregory accomplished much in his ministry, but significant to us is the fact that he sent Augustine, who would become the first Archbishop of Canterbury, on a mission to the Anglo-Saxons in the year 595. This act led the Venerable Bede to name Augustine, the Apostle to the English.
In addition to his other work, he was also a prolific writer. Perhaps one of his best known is the Book of Pastoral Rule, which provides instruction to clergy on how to guide their flocks. As Pope he considered himself to be the “servant of the servants of God,” so it is no wonder that much of this work speaks to the service and instruction that the clergy are to provide to those in their care. A passage that struck me states, “Therefore, it should be said to the humble that whenever they lower themselves, they ascend to the likeness of God. At the same time, it should be said to the proud that whenever they take pride in themselves, they fall into imitation of the apostate angel. And what could be worse than pride, which by holding itself above everything so unwinds itself from the stature of true greatness? And what is more sublime than humility, which by lowering itself unites with the Creator, who is above all things?”
Gregory speaks on humility and pride, but he also speaks to how we are to serve one another. When we humble ourselves in service to one another, we take on the likeness of our Savior. But when we serve others, we are not to ask that question that Dr. DeLamotte included in his topic: “Lord, what’s in it for me?” If, when we serve, we seek to gain something for ourselves or somehow gain a hand over the other person, then we are not serving them, we are serving ourselves. Remember what Jesus said, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High.” Jesus said in our Gospel, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” These are the ideas that Gregory had in mind when he referred to his roll as Pope as being the “servant of the servants of God,” and it is our calling as well.
You and I are called to be humble servants to one another, as Jesus was to us. When you serve, serve sacrificially.
One of my favorite prayers by St. Ignatius of Loyola:
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.