Abbot Anderson, Homily for the Feast of Saint Gregory the Great

+ Homily for the Feast of Saint Gregory the Great
March 12th, 2011
Annunciation Parish, Houston

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Very Reverend Monsignor Golasinski,
Distinguished members of the Pope John Paul II Forum,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

            On this Saturday following Ash Wednesday, as we set out on the great journey of Lent, we are greeted by the luminous figure of Saint Gregory the Great, whose feast is celebrated today and who is a most welcome guide, a lamp unto our feet.  This humble Benedictine monk, raised despite himself to the throne of Saint Peter, this incomparable Doctor of the Church, founder of the Church in England, this Patron of Sacred Chant, appears as one of those giants of sanctity upon whose shoulders the Catholic saints throughout ensuing ages have stood as upon a rock. 

Christ, Our Lord, alone is absolutely the one true rock upon which the Kingdom of Heaven rises, as foreseen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and prophetically interpreted by Daniel.  But Saint Peter also inherited, not only the name (which in Aramaic signifies “rock”), but the function of becoming the visible rock upon which the Church was to be built.  When he became Pope in the year 590, Saint Gregory in turn became “Peter”, the Rock, as did in more recent times the Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, affectionately known as Pope John Paul “the Great,” soon to be beatified.

Now when Jesus addressed Peter with those mysterious words, “Thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church,” He added this somewhat disturbing afterthought: “And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.  I say “disturbing”, not that the message is lacking in reassurance–for victory is promised to Peter and his successors, the vicars of Christ on earth—but that a clear threat is alluded to, an attempt of infernal powers to overcome in some way the visible head of the Church and thus the Church herself.  In what exactly consists this threat?

The attacks on the Church have varied greatly over the centuries.  In the time of Saint Gregory the city of Rome was falling into ruins.  Various plagues afflicted the population, and the Lombards, a Germanic people, who were partly pagan, partly Arian heretics, had overrun Italy and were cruelly afflicting the Catholic population.  In the time of Pope John Paul II it was surely the dark shadow of totalitarian political states—Nazism and then Communism—that threatened to prevail against the Church and against the entire Christian civilization.

What about our own day?  On the one hand, we are seeing the violent persecution of Christians in the Mideast at the hands of growing numbers of Islamic extremists.  If things continue as at present, these aggressive enemies of the Christian name will soon be “knocking at the door,” so to speak, in London, Paris, and—who knows?—New York. If the Gospel is not brought to a significant number of the Muslims living in our formerly Christian countries, France, England and Germany, just to name a few, will have predominantly Islamic populations  in just a few decades.

Perhaps even more disturbing than these threats to the Church from without the Christian world are those from within.  Our formerly Christian societies in Europe and in the Americas are now following a pattern of decadence that is so radical and rapid that it is truly amazing to persons who have enough years to evaluate the decline.  The phenomenon often referred to by Pope John Paul II as the “culture of death” is perhaps the most significant sign of this decadence, as it clearly shows an increasing disregard for the very dignity of human life, not to mention for God and for the authority of His Church.  It would be easy to harp upon this menace posed by the “gates of hell” in our day: any adult could furnish concrete examples from lived experiences around him or her.

The sense of Christ’s message endures, however.  The storms of hell must all break around the Rock.  It could happen someday, as certain Catholic writers have suggested, that Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, that incredible work of architecture and of Faith, be destroyed—a few bombs would do it. But even were such an extreme crisis to develop, the Rock that is Christ and the Rock that is Saint Peter and his successors, would never budge.  As the first Pope, Saint Peter, himself says, echoing the words of the royal prophet Isaiah, “For all flesh [i.e. merely human things] is as grass; and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass.  The grass is withered, and the flower thereof is fallen away.  But the word of the Lord endureth for ever.  And this is the word which by the gospel hath been preached unto you”. (I Petri 1:24-25)

So, what do we do during Lent, in order better to conform our lives to the living Truth of the Gospel that endures forever?  How do we build our own lives upon the Rock that is Christ and the Rock that is Saint Peter; how do we ourselves enter into this divine architecture?  For one thing, we can separate ourselves somewhat from the “grass” of human things that come and go, that have no substance to them.  By paying less attention to the magic mirror of the media—especially all that comes through the internet—and by actually reading Holy Scripture, the Word of God, immense benefits can be obtained.  What moderate and persevering fasting can do for our bodies, this fasting from more superficial news and knowledge can accomplish for our hearts and minds. 

In a more positive sense, we can follow the program so wisely laid down for our spiritual nourishment in the Holy Liturgy.   The series of books entitled The Liturgical Year by Abbot Prosper Gueranger can provide an excellent introduction and means of furthering our understanding of the liturgical season of Lent.  More recent works are also available. There is, as it were, a beautiful star, a guiding light in the Church’s liturgy that will be a lamp unto our feet through these days of penance, leading to Calvary and the great drama of the Passion.  More than anything else, attending the Holy Eucharistic Sacrifice of Mass during these Lenten days is the way to live with the Lord the whole paschal mystery, which moves towards its summit in the Sacred Triduum, culminating in the celebration of Easter.

May your patron Saint, here at Annunciation Parish, Our Lady of the Annunciation, be herself your guiding star.  Her delicate and immaculate foot, even more than the rock that is Peter, crushes and destroys the satanic forces that would prevail against the Church.  May this Queen of the Apostles guide you through the shadows of Lent to the sure and peaceful harbor of her Son’s victory over sin and death.  Amen.

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