On the Feast of St. Luke, Pray for Priests! – Gregory the Great

Gregory the Great here discusses the Lord’s exhortation to pray for priests and preachers of the gospel who are true laborers since the harvest is great but the serious laborers are few. It is fittingly read on the St. Luke the Evangelist on October 18.

Saint Luke appears to have born of a pagan Semitic family, probably in Syria. After accepting the Christian faith, he became a co-worker of the apostle Paul. From Saint Paul’s preaching he compiled one of the four canonical gospels. He handed down to us an inspired account of the beginnings of the Church in another canonical work, the Acts of the Apostles, which tells of events up to the time of Saint Paul’s first stay in Rome. Between his Gospel and Acts, St. Luke’s writings account for more of the verses in the New Testament than even St. Paul. He has preserved for us some of the most famous parables and stories of the gospel tradition which we would not know otherwise, including Gabriel’s annunciation to the Virgin Mary, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.

Beloved brothers, our Lord and Savior sometimes gives us instruction by words and sometimes by actions. His very deeds are our commands; and whenever he acts silently he is teaching us what we should do. For example, he sends his disciples out to preach two by two, because the precept of charity is twofold-love of God and of one’s neighbor.

The Lord sends his disciples out to preach in two’s in order to teach us silently that whoever fails in charity toward his neighbor should by no means take upon himself the office of preaching.

Rightly is it said that he sent them ahead of him into every city and place where he himself was to go. For the Lord follows after the preachers, because preaching goes ahead to prepare the way, and then when the words of exhortation have gone ahead and established truth in our minds, the Lord comes to live within us. To those who preach Isaiah says: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God.

bishop gustavo smiles at prisoner

And the psalmist tells them:Make a way for him who rises above the sunset. The Lord rises above the sunset because from that very place where he slept in death, he rose again and manifested a greater glory. He rises above the sunset because in his resurrection he trampled underfoot the death which he endured. Therefore, we make a way for him who rises above the sunset when we preach his glory to you, so that when he himself follows after us, he may illumine you with his love.

Let us listen now to his words as he sends his preachers forth: The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. That the harvest is good but the laborers are few cannot be said without a heavy heart, for although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it. Indeed, see how full the world is of priests, but yet in God’s harvest a true laborer is rarely to be found; although we have accepted the priestly office we do not fulfil its demands.

Think over, my beloved brothers, think over his words: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may be able to labor worthily on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, that after we have taken up the office of preaching our silence may not bring us condemnation from the just judge.

This excerpt from a homily (Hom. 17, 1-3, PL 76, 1139) by St. Gregory the Great (d. 604 AD) discusses the Lord’s exhortation to pray for priests and preachers of the gospel who are true laborers since the harvest is great but the serious laborers are few. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist on October 18. 

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 dads 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.”  (Bio by Dr. Italy)  For more on the life and impact of St. Gregory the Great, see chapter 25 of Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s book When the Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers.