Sunday, December 31, 2000

From monk to pope

Today we celebrate the memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great. While he was elected pope by unanimous acclamation in 590, and did many great things as Pope, this was not the life he truly wanted. He was the first monk to be elected pope.

In his writings we see a man who struggles like each of us to keep the proper balance in his life. He freely acknowledges his own weakness and how easy it is outside the confines of a monastery to be drawn into conversations and others things he has no business being involved in. He freely acknowledges that he likes these things, as we all do. After all, it wouldn't be temptation if we didn't like it.

During his early monastic years Gregory could be harsh in his condemnation of the sins of others. We see in his later writing his recognition of just how difficult it is to live in the world but not be of the world.

I find myself drawn little by little into idle conversation, and I begin to talk freely about matters which once I would have avoided. What once I found tedious I now enjoy

Today as we struggle to live the life to which Christ has called us, let us turn to St. Gregory the Great not only for his example but for his intercession.

Where did he get that?

A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and in his own house.

We probably all know the quote, but do we ever ask ourselves why this is true. The answer may be found right in the same passage. The question they repeatedly ask is,

Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds? or Where did this man get all this?

It seems to me that these would be perfectly fine questions if the questioners were seekers, if they were asking where he got it because they genuinely wanted to go and find this source of wisdom. But they are not asking out of a true sense of wonder and curiosity; they are asking out of jealousy.

They are asking in that tone that any of us can take when we see someone with some nice thing that we perhaps cannot afford and we think the other person does not deserve. We see the person with the nice new car, and with an edge to our voice ask, "Where did he get that?"

The sad thing is that if they had just asked him where he got all that, he would have told them. He would have not only told them he would have shared his wisdom and power with them. Remember the promise of John 14:12:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these
Two of the cardinal sins come to mind, greed and envy. The good news is that for each of the cardinal sins there is a cardinal virtue. The cardinal virtue for greed is caritas, charity or generosity. Interestingly, the cardinal virtue opposed to envy is humanitas. In Latin it can refer simply to humanity, human nature. But it also means kindness, courtesy, or culture.

The remedy for envy is not any great magic it is simple kindness,basic humanitas. The people of Jesus's hometown could have literally had it all. Instead, they chose to be petty. Which will we choose today: to be petty (small) or to be great, to be what. God has called us to be?

The Apostle of many names

Today on the third day of Christmas once again we wear red vestments for St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. Known to be the youngest of the apostles, he is often depicted in artwork with long red hair and no beard. Sadly, he is the one Dan Brown in his fiction tries to call Mary Magdalene, in the painting of the last supper.

He is known as beloved disciple, described at the last supper with his head on Jesus's chest. And he is the author of five books of the Bible: The Gospel of John, three Letters, and the Book of Revelation. He is the one who give us the simple Christian definition of the word God, God is love.

He is depicted as so sweet and gentle that we can forget that he and his brother James are called collectively by Jesus "Sons of Thunder." These brothers the sons of Zebedee were under no delusion that being Christian meant being passive. They were not afraid to verbally "thunder" when it was called for. Yes, at times Jesus has to reel them in, and John's fiery imagery in the Book of Revelation has served to fuel Christian crazies for centuries. But in the end he may still be my favorite of the apostles.

If I had to chose a single word to describe him it would be intense—from the intensity of his preaching to the more important intensity of his love for Christ. He was the only apostle chose not to run away from the Crucifixion, the apostle to whom Jesus would entrust his mother.

On this third day of Christmas we remember St. John, beloved disciple, apostle, evangelist, and son of thunder.

May we be filled on this winter day with the same fiery spirit that filled St. John.