Pope St. Gregory the Great, who reigned in the early seventh century, believed that he was living in the end times. His era was marked by widespread chaos, including political upheaval, flooding, plagues, and pestilence. Despite the challenges of his time, Gregory made it his mission to prepare extraordinary priests to meet the extraordinary circumstances they faced. He wrote “The Book of Pastoral Rule,” a manual that guided the training of bishops and priests for the next thousand years. In this book, Gregory outlined his ideas on how pastors facing crisis can be “physicians of the heart” in the care of souls.
Today, as we face our own worldwide crisis, priests can turn to Pope St. Gregory for sage advice and guidance. His teachings can provide priests with valuable insights on how to serve their parishioners and provide spiritual support during these challenging times. In this article, we will explore some of Gregory’s teachings on pastoral needs and how they can be applied today.
One of the key teachings of Pope St. Gregory the Great was the importance of spiritual fatherhood for priests. Gregory believed that priests should discern the movements of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual needs of their congregation in order to bring healing to their hearts. While priests may currently be unable to provide the sacraments to their parishioners, there is still much they can do to fulfill their role as spiritual fathers.
In a culture that often expects pastors to take on a therapeutic role, Gregory emphasized a spiritual approach. He wanted priests to long for God and seek discernment through prayer rather than relying solely on human reason. In today’s crisis, pastors may only be able to offer a few words of prayerful encouragement or advice to their parishioners through phone calls or emails. However, these gestures can still be meaningful and provide much-needed spiritual support. Priests can promise to pray for the intentions of their parishioners and share their own intentions for parishioners to pray for as well.
Pope St. Gregory the Great viewed the heart of a pastor as belonging to God. He believed that priests should spend time in meditation and contemplation before God, acting as intercessors on behalf of their spiritual children. Gregory drew inspiration from the Old Testament priest Aaron, who carried the burdens of the people on his breastplate as he entered to pray before the Holy of Holies. Similarly, Gregory urged his priests to bear the burdens of their spiritual children on their hearts.
Intercession is considered one of the greatest charisms of the priesthood, and priests already fulfill this role through the holy sacrifice of the Mass and personal prayer. While physical limitations may prevent priests from performing many works of the corporal works of mercy during this time, they can focus on the spiritual works of mercy. By returning frequently to prayer and restful study, priests can ensure that they have the spiritual strength to fulfill their role as intercessors for their parishioners.
Spiritual Works of Mercy
During times of crisis, priests may feel sidelined or out of action. However, Pope St. Gregory the Great emphasized that priests should not be overcome with the excesses and cares of life. He encouraged his priests to live a more monastic and ascetical lifestyle, following the Rule of St. Benedict as a model. This rule promotes balance and moderation, which are key virtues in monastic life.
While priests may not be able to physically perform many works of mercy at this time, they can focus on the spiritual works of mercy. This includes preaching and teaching the Word of God, which Gregory believed should be the primary focus of pastors. With the advent of technology, priests can continue to reach out to their parishioners through online platforms and deliver longer sermons. Parishioners are hungry for spiritual nourishment and will appreciate the opportunity to see and hear their beloved pastors.
In addition to preaching, pastors can also offer guidance on how to grow in relationship with the Lord during this time of increased isolation. One practice that can be recommended is lectio divina, or divine reading, which involves reading and meditating on scripture passages. The Sunday readings can serve as a great starting point for this practice, as it requires no additional resources or complex techniques.
Leading parishioners in online prayer sessions, such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, or the Divine Mercy chaplet, can also help pastors stay connected with their congregation and provide spiritual support. During times of crisis, hidden gifts and purposes often emerge, and priests can discern how they can best serve their parishioners in these challenging times.
Pope St. Gregory the Great has left a lasting legacy of teachings on pastoral needs. His writings provide valuable insights for priests facing crisis and struggling with the demands of serving their parishioners from a distance. Gregory’s emphasis on spiritual fatherhood, intercession, and the spiritual works of mercy can guide priests in their efforts to be “physicians of the heart” during this time of worldwide crisis.
While priests may not be able to provide the sacraments in person, they can still offer prayerful encouragement and support to their parishioners through phone calls and emails. By focusing on their role as intercessors and spending time in meditation and contemplation before God, priests can bear the burdens of their spiritual children and provide much-needed spiritual support.
Additionally, priests can continue to preach and teach the Word of God through online platforms, reaching out to their parishioners and providing them with the spiritual nourishment they crave. By living a balanced and contemplative lifestyle, priests can serve as models for their congregation and show the importance of finding inner peace and strength through prayer.
In these unprecedented times, God has prepared his priests to serve Him and His people. Pope St. Gregory the Great, through his teachings, continues to guide priests across the centuries on how to face challenges with mercy and wisdom. Let us pray for his intercession and ask for his guidance as we navigate these uncertain times.