In the second lesson in today’s Office of Readings, S. Gregory the Great (whose feastday it is) considers his position – the position of every shepherd of the flock – as a watchman : and recognizes only too clearly his defects in that role, saying that is life does not ‘follow the principles I preach so inadequately’.
At the same time, he realizes that this is not necessarily his direct fault. He makes the point that it is ‘since taking on my shoulders the burden of pastoral care’ that ‘I have been unable to keep steadily recollected because my mind is distracted by many responsibilities’, and that ‘My mind is sundered and torn to pieces by the many and serious things I have to think about’.
It is because he is ‘often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with men of the world’, and feels forced not to repel them that he ‘must frequently listen patiently to their aimless chatter’; and that it is this, coupled with the fact that ‘I am weak myself’ – that is to say, human – that he finds himself falling into ways of which, when he views things objectively, he does not approve.
It is this, then, that brings about his problem; that leads to all his shortcomings as a watchman – the fact that he is human. So, ‘I do not stand on the pinnacle of achievement, I languish rather in the depths of my weakness. And yet the creator and redeemer of mankind can give me, unworthy though I be, the grace to see life whole and power to speak effectively of it’.
Reading and considering this, I realize that whilst what I – and many others – have spoken out from time to time of the shortcomings of our shepherds, the failure of our Bishops to stand up strongly for the truths of God, and to argue ceaselessly for the Faith, is nothing new : S. Gregory obviously recognized these same faults in himself.
I’m not saying that the faults aren’t there; for clearly, as many of us have seen, and said, they are . . . but as S. Gregory reminds us, they are no sin as such, but rather the produce of their being – like us – humans.
Let us pray for them, that they may have the grace to overcome their humanity and serve God steadfastly and amply as the watchmen that He has called them to be . . . and let us pray for ourselves, that whilst we notice their failings, we hold them up for loving support, and not for criticism. I, at least, have certainly done the latter rather than the former from time to time; and I ask God’s forgiveness for it.