22nd Tuesday of Ordinary Time
Memorial of St. Gregory the Great
The opening prayer of the Mass can often give us something to look for in the readings that follow, or it may single out some quality of a saint which we can admire and pray to imitate. On today’s feast of St Gregory, the Church prays for “the flourishing of a holy flock”, because St Gregory himself flourished in a holy way of life, and the way he did so is of special interest to monks. Like Thomas Merton, his whole life was lived “in the belly of a paradox”. On the one hand, he wanted nothing better than to live the monastic life like any monk, “to live in the house of the Lord all the days of his life, to savor the sweetness of the Lord”.
On the other hand, as St Paul comments in the first reading, it was when he was saying “Peace and security” that “sudden disaster came upon him”: he was elected pope, and he could not escape. If his monastic vocation was to flourish, it could only do so in the very personal way in which the Lord was calling him to live that vocation. So, like Blessed Eugene after him, St Gregory continued to live the monastic life as well as he could, while at the same time responding to the Lord’s personal call to be “servant of the servants of God”, as Gregory was the first to describe his role as pope.
For a monk, to flourish in a holy life will mean developing both aspects of our vocation: what we have in common with every monk, and what is proper to me alone, the kind of monk that only I can be, as the Lord calls me. We only respond fully to the Lord’s call when we find ourselves growing more like monks, and at the same time, more like ourselves. Dom Elias in his visitation report commented that he could see this growth in some of the brothers, and that we ought to encourage it when we see it.
Although we grow in both directions throughout our life, usually we begin with discovering what it really means to be a monk. We deepen our understanding by reading the classics of monastic literature, but also, and especially, by following the good example of the monks who live in this monastery. It is a law of life that we are slowly transformed by the people we live with. Admiration leads to imitation. Almost unconsciously we feel impelled to imitate all that appears to us as what a monk should be. And this is healthy because it reveals to us a genuine part of our own identity as monks.
At the same time, we must never forget that we will always be different from other monks. St Gregory was the only monk in his monastery who was also the pope. Too often we look at one another and make comparisons, when what fits for another monk may not work for us. Our monastic vocation is a continuous response to grace, and develops along the lines of our own personality. The more we respond to grace, the more different we will become from every other monk.
May St Gregory intercede for us, that we may become the monks that God wants us to be.