Pope Saint Leo: A Great Support in Time of Adversity


During our study and appreciation of the Church’s history of two millennia, one of the outstanding figures is that of Pope St Leo the Great.

His title already says much about him. He was born from a Roman aristocratic family, which traced its origins from Tuscany. Leo’s love for the Lord, erudition and persuasive nature, together with that singular of reconciliation he dearly nurtured, gave the Roman Church of the fifth century a great asset. How times he was sent by popes to reconcile disputing groups of Christians!

After the papacy of Celesinte as well as Pope Sixtus III, divine Providence called him to serve in the Petrine Ministry in the year 440. His immediate election showed already how much he was respected by God’s people, and Pope Leo dedicated himself completely to God’s service as pope. He always kept in mind that he was elected Pope as a servant, and in him we can affectionately attribute Jesus’ saying which he fulfilled with his utmost strength and care: For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Pope Leo’s self-giving earned him the honour of being one of the best administrative popes of the ancient Church, diligently and tirelessly working to preserve the Church’s unity as well as its faith. On a political level he tried his very best to oust any invading army trying to destroy both the Church and her undisputed influence on contemporary culture and beyond.

On the example of the Good Shepherd he lovingly followed in his footsteps, Pope Leo fought the wolf of heresy which were weakening the Western Church, namely Pelagianism (which denied Original Sin and thus did not comprehend the necessity of God’s grace for salvation) and Manicheism which denied the goodness of the human body, creation and matter as such. Hence, by regarding matter as evil it went directly contrary to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. His very profound sermons addressed the issue of Jesus’ humanity and his divinity which preoccupied for a long time the Eastern Church. The great Leo settled this issue thanks to a letter which, on the one hand, preserved the Church’s teaching on Jesus Christ and also opened the door for all the implications for every human being who is now baptized into Jesus Christ.

Pope Leo was also ‘great’ for his outstanding courage in defending the Eternal City against Attila the Hun who invaded Italy in 452. At this particular moment, the holy and astute Leo embraced the role of peacemaker. His greatness had another aspect too: he was so close to the people he served, inspiring and promoting charitable works in those areas of the Roman soil wherein famine, dislocation of people and poverty ran rampant. Pope Leo lived the Gospel’s message in its letter and spirit.

Before the obvious hurt, suffering and needs of the Roman Church. Pope Leo lived that beautiful phrase which can be easily attribute to the Messiah: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted (Isa 61:1). This he did when delivering those profound sermons. Thanks to his Spirit-anointed words, Pope Leo could reach the hearts of his afflicted flock. In that sense, St Pope Leo the Great was certainly a very powerful instrument in God’s hands to touch people’s hearts through his immense knowledge of the Word of God as well as the reading of the signs of his times both in the Church and outside of her confines.

Leo died on 10 November 461, now interceding in heaven for us to be one Church, solidified in sound teaching and open to the needs of the poor of our time.

Among other things, St Leo the Great teaches that Eucharist has the power to change us by the very Body and Blood of Christ it celebrates. He says: The effect of our sharing in the body and blood of Christ is to change us into what we receive.

Pope Leo makes us aware of the precious dignity we, as baptized, obtained at the day of our baptism. He notes: Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.

Thirdly, we achieve virtue through facing temptations and winning them. He reminds us: Virtue is nothing without the trial of temptation, for there is no conflict without an enemy, no victory without strife.

Fourth, the world’s pleasures are ephemeral and the heavenly promises are eternal. He tells us: Short and fleeting are the joys of this world’s pleasures which endeavors to turn aside from the path of life those who are called to eternity. The faithful and religious spirit, therefore, must desire the things which are heavenly, and being eager for the Divine promises, lift itself to the love of the incorruptible Good and the hope of the true Light.

St Leo the Great teaches us to love the Church and support her in her unity. In one of his sermons he said: Although the universal Church of God is constituted of distinct orders of members, still, in spite of the many parts of its holy body, the Church subsists as an integral whole, just as the Apostle says: we are all one in Christ. . . For all, regenerated in Christ, are made kings by the sign of the cross; they are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood. For what is more king-like that to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?

St Leo the Great: A great support in times of adversity, pray for us!

Previous article
Next articleSymbolism Over Substance
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.