Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Attitudes of Yesterday’s Spiritual Leaders: Featuring James Cardinal Gibbons and Pope St. Gregory VII

In the nineteenth century priestly formation was inspired by a manliness which anticipated spiritual combat. As a result, bishops and priests were not only well formed, but they developed the habit of telling Catholics what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear. For example, in 1896 James Cardinal Gibbons wrote a book for his priests and seminarians with the title- The Ambassador of Christ. In his book, Cardinal Gibbons addressed the reason why some clergy and teachers of the Faith tend to void addressing difficult truths of the Gospel. And the reason for this avoidance was the love of human respect and the dread of incurring disfavor. On human respect, he wrote:

"The vice opposed to self respect is human respect. Human respect is a base condescension by which, from the fear of offending others, or from the desire of acquiring their esteem, a man says or does what his conscience conceives to be unlawful. It is not easy to exaggerate the baneful influence which this moral cowardice exerts on mankind, especially on impressionable youth, under the alluring guise of friendship and love of applause...

God has established in your breast the sacred tribunal of conscience by whose dictates you are bound to decide. But in yielding to human respect, you act the part of a temporizing judge like Pilate, who pronounced sentence, not in accordance with the evidence before Him, but in obedience to the clamors of the multitude. You sacrifice principle to expediency, you subordinate the voice of God to the voice of man, you surrender your Christian liberty and manly independence, and you become the slave of a fellow creature."

Several hundred years earlier, Pope St. Gregory VII wrote in the eleventh century about the love of human respect and the aversion to hatred so common among Christian leaders during his time. The subtle temptation to curry favor with the people is no small obstacle in calling people to repentance; but the call to repentance is a must if pastors are to save souls. The same can be said whenever the courageous attempt was made to reform the Church.

It should be expected, then, that whenever Christians shine the light of Christ in dark corners, people will put up a fight and as such, there is a price to be paid. For this saintly pope, he was driven out of Rome by the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. As you might expect, this Henry IV favored State-control over the Church. But because St. Gregory VII stood up to the emperor- and even excommunicated him at one point – he eventually died in exile; that is, outside of Rome.

Nevertheless, due to St. Gregory VII initiatives a movement of reform was generated among the clergy; a reform which led to the liberation of the Church from the domination of the State.

You might be surprised to learn that the Church around 1000 A.D. experienced much of the same problems that the struggled with just recently in 2002 A.D. Internationally, the uprising of Islam posed a problem for Christianity and internally within the Church, the clergy was riddled with sexual scandals, including pedophilia. But St. Gregory VII did not tolerate the widespread problem of sexual abuse; rather, he clamped down on it! This, no doubt, made some his brother bishops mad and many priests who had backslid into this immoral activity. Still, the pope persisted and ended up infusing the Church with his monastic spirituality and vigor.

It must be mentioned that the most painful part of his ministry as St. Peter's successor was being opposed by his own; that is, by bishops, priests and lay people. He was only human. As such, his zeal for God's glory led him to feel alone and abandoned at times.

Pope St. Gregory VII said, "The only reason why the leaders of the nations and the leaders of the priests have armed themselves and come together against Christ and His Vicar is this- that we would not keep silent as to the dangers which threaten the Holy Church, nor yield to those who would reduce the Bride of Christ to slavery...There are those in the world thousands of men who risk death every day at the summons of their lords. Yet, when the interests of the King of Heaven, our Redeemer, are at stake, how many Christians shrink, not from death only but even from the hatred of men. And the few- thanks be to God for those few -who dare to resist the wicked openly, and to face death, are not only unsupported by their brethren, but are accused by them of imprudence, and indiscretion, and are treated as fools..."

Jesus Christ died outside the walls of Jerusalem. Our Lord said that a servant is not greater than his master. As the leader of all Christians, Jesus led by example and allowed himself to be ostracized by his own and hated by the world. He told His disciples to expect no different. Pope St. Gregory VII did just that: he expected to be treated like his Master. And in doing so, St. Gregory VII led the Church to its restoration which it so desperately needed.

The last words of this great pope was the following: "I have loved justice and hated inequity; therefore I die in exile."

-Pope St. Gregory VII