In the Catholic calendar before 1969, March 12 used to be the feast of Pope St. Gregory the Great, the reforming pope who died in 604. A prefect of Rome and then a monk before the people of Rome chose him as their bishop, he is known for his support of monasticism and the reform of the liturgy (including music). He also, out of concern for some British slaves he once saw in Rome, sent St. Augustine and other monks to re-evangelize Britain.
St. Augustine wrote St. Gregory for advice various times. Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, notes that “Gregory’s answers reflect his characteristic wisdom, but also his humane flexibility in responding to new problems.”
St. Bede the Venerable later noted, “For while other popes devoted themselves to building churches and enriching them with costly ornaments, Gregory’s sole concern was to save souls.”
As the cardinals meet today to begin the conclave to select a new pope, they might look at these characteristics of St. Gregory the Great.
They also might look at the words of Timothy Shriver, chairman of the Special Olympics, who wrote the Washington Post, here:
“If I were pope, I’d pray for an end of fear.”
He went on to mention a list of fears – of the Holy Spirit, of women, of vulnerability, of simplicity, of death, of sexuality.
His last paragraph is particularly poignant:
One cautionary note: I’m not going to be pope. But there’s nothing on this list(save the ordination of women and the opening of the Eucharistic table) I can’t do myself. For me and for so many others who want and expect something dramatic from a leader like the pope, it might be a good idea to start with myself.
As we pray for a new pope, let us pray that we show in our lives what we want of a pope.