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Job and Life’s Trials

Paul saw the riches of wisdom within himself though he himself was outwardly a corruptible body, which why he says We have this treasure in earthen vessels. In Job, then, the earthenware vessel felt his gaping sores externally; while this interior treasure remained unchanged. Outwardly he had gaping wounds but that did not stop the treasure of wisdom within him from welling up and uttering these holy and instructive words: If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil? By the good he means the good things given by God, both temporal and eternal; by evil he means the blows he is suffering from in the present. Of those evils the Lord says, through the prophet Isaiah,

I am the Lord, unrivalled,
I form the light and create the dark.
I make good fortune and create calamity,
it is I, the Lord, who do all this.

I form the light, and create the dark, because when the darkness of pain is created by blows from without, the light of the mind is kindled by instruction within.

I make good fortune and create calamity, because when we wrongly covet things which it was right for God to create, they are turned into scourges and we see them as evil. We have been alienated from God by sin, and it is fitting that we should be brought back to peace with him by the scourge. As every being, which was created good, turns to pain for us, the mind of the chastened man may, in its humbled state, be made new in peace with the Creator.

We should especially notice the skilful turn of reflection he uses when he gathers himself up to meet the persuading of his wife, when he says If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil? It is a great consolation to us if, when we suffer afflictions, we recall to remembrance our Maker’s gifts to us. Painful things will not depress us if we quickly remember also the gifts that we have been given. As Scripture says, In the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and in the day of affliction, do not forget prosperity.

Whoever, in the moment of receiving God’s gifts but forgets to fear possible affliction, will be brought low by his presumption. Equally, whoever in the moment of suffering fails to take comfort from the gifts which it has been his lot to receive, is thrown down from the steadfastness of his mind and despairs.

The two must be united so that each may always have the other’s support, so that both remembrance of the gift may moderate the pain of the blow and fear of the blow may moderate exuberance at receiving the gift. Thus the holy man, to soothe the depression of his mind amidst his wounds, weighs the sweetness of the gifts against the pains of affliction, saying If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?

This excerpt from St. Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on Job (Moralia in Job, Lib. 3, 15-16: pl 75, 606-608) treats of the problem of life’s trials and misfortunes and why God allows them. This is, of course, the theme of the entire book of Job–the problem of evil, suffering and pain. This reading is used in the Roman Office of Readings for Monday of the 8th week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Job 2:1-13.

St. Gregory the Great

Pope Saint Gregory I, commonly known as St. Gregory the Great, was one of the most fascinating of early Church leaders.  Son of a Roman Senator, Saint Gregory was born in Rome around 540AD and, following his dad’s footsteps, embarked upon a political career.  He rose through the ranks of civil service and eventually became Prefect (mayor) of the city of Rome.  At that point, Gregory discerned a call to deeper life with God so promptly gave away his wealth to the poor and entered the monastery of St. Andrew (ca. 574) where he ultimately became abbot (585).  The Pope, recognizing his talent, named him as one of the seven deacons of Rome and then sent him on a diplomatic mission as papal legate to the imperial city of Constantinople where he remained for five years.  Upon the death of the pope in 590, St. Gregory was elected to succeed him, the first monk ever elected as the Successor of Peter.   This man who wanted nothing else but to be a simple monk had to undergo a profound interior struggle before accepting this election as the will of God.  Immediately he set to work putting in order the affairs of a Church and society in chaos.  Like his predecessor Pope Leo the Great, he negotiated a “separate peace” with the invading barbarians, in this case the Lombards (592-3).  In light of the powerlessness of the Byzantine emperor in the West, he took over civic as well as spiritual leadership of Italy, appointing governors of the various Italian cities.  He, who had spent his own wealth to relieve the suffering of the poor, did much the same with the resources of the church.   He insisted on Papal primacy, and took the initiative in evangelization, sending monks from his former monastery led by Augustine to convert the Angles of Britain.     His abundant writings are more practical and spiritual than doctrinal or theoretical.  His “Liber Regulae Pastoralis” (592 ca) sets the standard of what a bishop should be.  His “Dialogues” recounts the life of his master, St. Benedict, and other saints of the period.  His Moralia in Job is a commentary on the book of Job according to the literal, moral, and spiritual senses of Scripture.  Very devoted to the liturgy, Gregory promoted sacred music and to this day the plainsong that comes down to us from this era is known as “Gregorian Chant.”  Gregory, who died in 604 AD, is known as one of the four greatest Latin-speaking Fathers and Doctors of the Church.  He is one of the few men in the history of the Church whose name is customarily followed by “the Great.”  His liturgical memorial is on September 3, the anniversary of his consecration as bishop of Rome and successor of St. Peter.  His favorite title for this exalted office was “servant of the servants of God.”