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St. Gregory the Great: the Doctor of Desire

On March 12, 604 Pope St. Gregory the Great died. As his honorary title proclaims, he was a great man and a great pope. But his greatness was his not because he made the papacy great again. St. Gregory was called great because he was good — the servant of the servants of God, as he challenged himself to be. His greatness was achieved in a spirit of humble hesitancy to be great: a spirit of holy meekness. In fact, greatness was the very thing Gregory himself did not desire, and it was in that that he achieved greatness together with his great desire for God — a desire that gave Gregory an even greater title than “the Great:” namely, the Doctor of Desire.

St. Gregory was a man who lived in an age that was as turbulent and as troubled as the current age. In his own day, St. Gregory was convinced that he was living in the end times. But the world is always coming to an end. There may not be marauding Lombards at the gates, but the fragments of modern civilization are under attack by a new breed of barbarians. Given that cultural crisis is common to both eras, the story of St. Gregory’s life has direct applicability to what is transpiring in the world today.

Gregory’s Italy was tottering under the failed conquests of the late Emperor Justinian, and reeling with famine, disease, bureaucratic corruption, and devalued education. Gregory prepared for his role in his ravaged, burnt-out world through the Liberal Arts and a thorough course in religious studies. His classical education and promising political life as a Prefect of Rome led him, by their contrast, to a Benedictine monastery, where he rejoiced in the simplicity, order, and rigor of the monastic life.

But Gregory could not hide from the world. Renowned for his wisdom and learning, Pope Benedict I compelled the happy monk to become a distracted deacon of Rome. Next, Pope Pelagius II sent the distracted deacon to Constantinople to be a flustered papal emissary. When the flustered emissary tried to slip back into his abbey to be a happy monk again, he was made into an overwrought papal secretary. When Pope Pelagius died, the overwrought secretary was pressed to become a reluctant pope.

Read more at Catholic Exchange

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