Today the Catholic Church celebrates the memorial of St. Gregory the Great, pope and Doctor of the Church, and a man who had tremendous influence on the development of the Church. (His Liber pastoralis curae, his book on the office of a bishop, was for centuries the textbook of the Catholic episcopate.)
Gregory was a prolific and influential writer as well as a good shepherd to his people. He did much to help the poor and, even as pope, lived in monastic simplicity. Perhaps one of the highest praises that can be offered of him is that he practiced what he preached.
In honor of his memorial, I want to share again words of his I shared once before: Gregory’s thoughts on what it means to deny ourselves, which I find very helpful.
We abandon ourselves, we deny ourselves, when we escape what we were in our old state and strive toward what we are called to be in our new one. Let us consider how Paul, who said, “It is no longer I who live,” had denied himself. The cruel persecutor had been destroyed and the holy preacher had begun to live. If he had remained himself, he would not have been holy. But let the one who denied that he was alive tell us how it came about that he proclaimed holy words through the teaching of the truth. Immediately after saying, “It is no longer I who live,” he added “but Christ lives in me.” It is as if he were saying, “I have indeed been destroyed by myself since I no longer live unspiritually; but according to my essential being I am not dead since I am spiritually alive in Christ.
We sometimes think denying ourselves and taking up our cross as something unpleasant, something that must involve suffering. Gregory’s words express it in much more positive terms: denying ourselves, taking up our cross, means taking on Christ. Dying to all that is sinful – all that is not God in us – and allowing Christ more and more to live in us. Far from suffering, that sounds pretty darn attractive.
St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.