St. Gregory the Great is one the greatest of the popes. He held the church together during Rome’s free fall into poverty in the 6th century, one of the city’s worst periods. Not only did Gregory help the church survive, he also initiated her expansion into England and the barbarian lands to the north.
I lived across the street from Gregory’s home on the Celian Hill for a few years. On my way to school, I used to peek through the doors of the library of Pope Agapitus, a relative of Gregory’s, where archeologists were working. At some point, barbarian armies must have plundered that place on their sweep through the city. Yes, Gregory and his family stayed on when most of his neighbors left Rome for safer parts.
Called to a job he didn’t want, Gregory kept his balance by reflecting on the scripture. His favorite book was the Book of Job. We would never know the greatness of Job, if suffering didn’t reveal it, Gregory said, so he looked to Job in hard times. Here are a few lines from his commentary on Job:
“Paul saw the riches of wisdom within himself though his outward body was corruptible, and so he says ‘ We have this treasure in earthen vessels.’
“ In Job, then, the earthen vessel was gaping sores, while an interior treasure remained unchanged. Gaping outward wounds did not stop the treasure of wisdom from welling up within and saying: ‘If we have received good things at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?’
“By good things Job means the good things given by God, both temporal and eternal; by evil he means the blows he presently suffers.
“ When we’re afflicted, let’s remember our Maker’s gifts to us. Suffering will not depress us if we quickly remember the gifts we’ve been given. As Scripture says, ‘In the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and in the day of affliction, do not forget prosperity.’”