Today we celebrate the first of the saints to be given the further designation of "the Great." Only five others in the Catholic Church: Albert, Anthony, Basil, Gertrude, and Gregory have been given this title. Why so great?
Today we take for granted the truth that Jesus was both truly God, and truly human, yet one person. But as late as the 5th century Christians were still arguing over the nature of Jesus. There were extremists on both ends. Those who would overemphasize his humanity and those who would so emphasize his divinity. Pope Leo the Great and the Council of Calcedon in 451 found that perfect point of balance with which most Christians have lived ever since.
It is easy for us to get so caught up in our positions that, sometimes with our noticing we can slide to an extreme position that is disconnected from the truth. Every heresy in the history of the Church started with some piece of the truth, but then that piece was taken out of context, and those holding that piece became so obsessed with it that it became the only piece.
Both sides in the debate were made up of good people, people who believed in the truth, people who were seekers of the truth. It would be wrong to claim evil intention on either side.
Pope Leo's greatness was in his ability to hold the Church together, defining what is really the core of the Petrine ministry. At the end of John's gospel we get one final story of Peter.
So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)
The Church would remain unified until 1054, when it would split into the two parts we now call Catholic and Eastern Orthodox. Then 500 years later would begin the fracturing of the Catholic side into the innumerable pieces we see today.
We have gotten so comfortable with the fractures that we can forget that a thousand years we were truly one. Jesus before he went to his death for us prayed,
That they may be one Father, as you and I are one.
Today as we remember St. Leo the Great, let us pray for the reunification of the Church. Let us pray that we may also open our ears to truly hear and find the truth where it is most often found, not at the extremes but in the middle.