Father Greg was a good monk. So humble. He loved the peace and quiet of his monastery. It was so easy there to dismiss the distractions of the world and devote himself to prayer.
But then, Fr. Greg was chosen to be a bishop. That was then end of the serene contemplative life. He resisted the invitation at first, but finally submitted to the will of those who felt he was the only man for this particular job.
Dealing with his new diocese was really tough for Father Greg. He said he felt “divided and torn to pieces” by all the competing demands on his time and energy. Administrative tasks were the worst: the diocese owned lots of property. All sorts of projects and people needed money, and some were so manipulative in their attempts to get a piece of the pie that the bishop secretly thought of them as “robbers”. It was hard to be patient and charitable with these people. There were both physical and spiritual dangers of all kinds for the Bishop’s flock. Heretical ideas were gaining traction among the people. Criminal gangs were a huge problem in the city, and the bishop spent hours working with government officials to minimize the damage and devastation caused by them.
Bishop Greg (we had better call him that now) worried about losing sight of his apostolic commission to preach the gospel, so much did all these chores distract him. His position forced him to spend lots of time with men of the world: politicians, the wealthy. He had to drop the introspective, retiring persona of a monk, and , well, “do as the Romans do.” Not wanting to appear judgmental or uncharitable, Bishop Greg talked with them about what they were interested in: sports, entertainment, the business world: “I began to talk freely about things I once would have avoided. What once I found tedious I now enjoy.” He felt bad about that change in himself, remembering the kind of spiritual life he had in the monastery.
Ever a humble man, the bishop admitted all this in a sermon. He said he often felt like a hypocrite, and a failure, not living up to his own preaching and mission. His congregation was bewildered, since as far as they were concerned, their bishop was a saint.
And now…the rest of the story.
Bishop Greg was a saint.
St. Gregory the Great. He became pope–bishop of Rome– under protest in the year 590. The description of his troubles above was taken directly from a sermon of his. It can be found in the office of readings as part of the liturgy that commemorates his feast day, September 3rd.
The only liberty taken in telling this story (besides the informal “Greg” and neglecting to mention that his diocese was Rome) was to refer to “street gangs” rather than “roving bands of barbarians”. This was the dark ages, when Rome was little more than one big refugee camp due to years of political strife and invasion. While dealing with all these problems, St. Gregory managed to blow off a heresy or two, reform the western liturgy, and revitalize the Church’s slumping missionary efforts.
But what I most admire about Father Greg—I mean, St. Gregory—was his humility in admitting how difficult it is to pursue holiness while living an active vocation. “Torn to pieces” by competing demands, he said. This makes him a sympathetic patron, not only of popes and bishops, but of all of us who long for a spiritual life but are sidetracked by many, many obligations.