Mystery of Mercy

Holy Job is a type of the Church. At one time he speaks for the body, at another for the head. As he speaks of its members he is suddenly caught up to speak in the name of their head. So it is here, where he says: I have suffered this without sin on my hands, for my prayer to God was pure.

Christ suffered without sin on his hands, for he committed no sin and deceit was not found on his lips. Yet he suffered the pain of the cross for our redemption. His prayer to God was pure, his alone out of all mankind, for in the midst of his suffering he prayed for his persecutors: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Is it possible to offer, or even to imagine, a purer kind of prayer than that which shows mercy to one’s torturers by making intercession for them? It was thanks to this kind of prayer that the frenzied persecutors who shed the blood of our Redeemer drank it afterward in faith and proclaimed him to be the Son of God.


The text goes on fittingly to speak of Christ’s blood: Earth, do not cover over my blood, do not let my cry find a hiding place in you. When man sinned, God had said: Earth you are, and to earth you will return. Earth does not cover over the blood of our Redeemer, for every sinner, as he drinks the blood that is the price of his redemption, offers praise and thanksgiving, and to the best of his power makes that blood known to all around him.

Earth has not hidden away his blood, for holy Church has preached in every corner of the world the mystery of its redemption.

Notice what follows: Do not let my cry find a hiding place in you. The blood that is drunk, the blood of redemption, is itself the cry of our Redeemer. Paul speaks of the sprinkled blood that calls out more eloquently than Abel’s. Of Abel’s blood Scripture had written: The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the earth. The blood of Jesus calls out more eloquently than Abel’s, for the blood of Abel asked for the death of Cain, the fratricide, while the blood of the Lord has asked for, and obtained, life for his persecutors.

If the sacrament of the Lord’s passion is to work its effect in us, we must imitate what we receive and proclaim to mankind what we revere. The cry of the Lord finds a hiding place in us if our lips fail to speak of this, though our hearts believe in it. So that his cry may not lie concealed in us it remains for us all, each in his own measure, to make known to those around us the mystery of our new life in Christ.

Here St. Gregory brings out the mystery of mercy revealed in the sufferings of Christ and our obligation to make that extraordinary mercy known to everyone. It is a call therefore not only to personal prayer, but to evangelization.  He brings out the connection between the Eucharist in which which receive the gift, and evangelism, our duty to share the gift with others.

This excerpt from St. Gregory the Great’s Moral Reflections on Job (Lib. 13, 21-23: PL 75, 1028-1029) on the Mystery of Mercy received in the Eucharist is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Friday of the 3rd week in the Lenten season with the accompanying biblical reading of Exodus 35:30-36:1 and 37:1-9. 

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.”