One of the great joys of history is reminiscing about the past, giving hope for the present; for history is ‘eschatological’, moving towards a final purpose. Hence, we Catholics should never lose hope, and this virtue is easier to cultivate and foster in our souls if, as Christ said, we could but read the signs.
Saint Gregory, pope from 590 to 604 A.D. was one of the more hopeful figures in our panoply of saints. Raised in an aristocratic and wealthy family, the son of a Roman senator (even if that office had declined somewhat from Rome’s glory days) he dedicated his resources, along with his immense talents, to the service of God. Appointed prefect of the city at 30 years old, Gregory turned towards a more supernatural life, founding a Benedictine monastery on his family’s property, and, his gifts recognized by the people (election by cardinals would not be the norm until the 12th century), elected supreme pontiff on this day in 590.
Gregory, like all saints, was industrious, using the time he had well: He shored up not only the Church, but Rome as well, governing the city better than his secular predecessors had done (and thus involving future Popes in temporal governance, which would create many issues in the centuries to come, especially for those of lesser character and virtue than Gregory).
He also organized the mission to the Anglo-Saxons (as I wrote in my reflections on Canterbury and Augustine), converting Britain to Catholicism, along with the barbarians in and beyond the Italian peninsula, Franks, the Lombards, the Visigoths, who had until that point been immersed in the pernicious heresy of Arianism. Thus, he saved most of Europe, making the continent, from France to Germany, Catholic, at least up until Luther, Calvin and the Protestant revolt.
Gregory is also known for his liturgical work, ordering the Mass and the other sacraments according to norms binding upon the whole Church; he also organized the ancient chants, which precede him, but which now go by his name, and now far too neglected (and we should not underestimate what good would come from singing chant again at Mass, I posit, along with the Church, and any number of previous Pontiffs)
The great Pope also many profound works, not least his Dialogues (including an invaluable near-contemporaneous life of Saint Benedict), his Pastoral Rule, Commentary on Job, and numerous homilies and letters, for which he has been given the title of Doctor.
A model for Popes through the ages, and we should be grateful indeed for the numerous saintly men who have graced the office of Peter, a burden so great that one needs sanctity, and a whole lot of grace, to carry it.
Hence, pray for the current Holy Father: May that same light of truth shine through the present darkness in the Church, for, regardless of travails, God will never abandon His bride.
Saint Gregory the Great, ora pro eo et pro nobis!