On September 3 (see page 66), we celebrate the memorial of St. Gregory the Great.
Here, in an excerpt from a sermon on Ezekiel, Gregory shares his insecurities and difficulties in following the call to serve as a “watchman” over God’s people. Even 1,400 years later, we can identify with the array of daily trials he faced. But may his words remind us of the importance of humility and trust in God’s support, so that we too may work through our weaknesses in order to serve others.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7). Note that one whom the Lord sends forth as a preacher is called a watchman. A watchman always stands on a height to see from afar what is coming. Anyone appointed to be a watchman for the people must stand on a height always to help them using this foresight.
Answering the call isn’t easy
How hard it is for me to say this, for by these very words I denounce myself: I cannot preach with any competence, and yet insofar as I do succeed, still I myself do not live my life according to my own preaching.
I do not deny my responsibility; I recognize that I am slothful and negligent, but perhaps the acknowledgment of my fault will win me pardon from my just Judge.
Indeed, when I was in the monastery I could curb my idle talk and usually be absorbed in my prayers. Since I assumed the burden of pastoral care, my mind can no longer be collected; it is concerned with so many matters. I am forced to consider the affairs of the Church and of the monasteries. I must weigh the lives and acts of individuals. I am responsible for the concerns of our citizens.
I must worry about the invasions of roving bands of barbarians and beware of the wolves who lie in wait for my flock. I must become an administrator lest the religious go in want. I must put up with certain robbers without losing patience, and at times I must deal with them in all charity.
We are weak, but God is strong
With my mind divided and torn to pieces by so many problems, how can I meditate or preach wholeheartedly without neglecting the ministry of proclaiming the gospel?
Moreover, in my position I must often communicate with worldly men. At times I let my tongue run, for if I am always severe in my judgments, the worldly will avoid me, and I can never attack them as I would.
As a result, I often listen patiently to chatter. And because I too am weak, I find myself drawn little by little into idle conversation, and I begin to talk freely about matters which once I would have avoided. What once I found tedious I now enjoy.
So who am I to be a watchman, for I do not stand on the mountain of action but lie down in the valley of weakness?
Truly, the all-powerful Creator and Redeemer of humankind can give me—in spite of my weaknesses—a higher life and effective speech; because I love God, I do not spare myself in speaking of God!