Alongside and Lifted Up

From The Pastoral Rule (ca. 590)

Let every Christian leader be both alongside each person under their pastoral care in compassion, and lifted above all in contemplation, so that he may both transfer to himself the weaknesses of others through the inner depths of his mercy, and at the same time, transcend himself seeking the unseen through the heights of contemplation. The balance is important lest in seeking to scale the heights a leader despise the weakness of his neighbor, or in attending to the weakness of his neighbor, he lose his desire for the sublime.

Thus it was that Paul was led into paradise and searched the secrets of the third heaven, and yet, though raised aloft in the contemplation of the unseen, was still able to give his mind to the needs of ordinary people, and even lay out norms governing the conduct of Christian marriage.

Note that Paul had already been introduced into the secrets of heaven, yet by a graciousness of love was still able to give advice to ordinary men and women. He can raise his heart to the contemplation of the unseen, and being so lifted up, can turn in compassion to the secrets of those who are weak. He reaches the heavens in contemplation, yet in his care for others does not ignore the marriage-bed. United by a bond of charity to the highest and the lowest alike, a leader is readily caught up in the contemplation of heaven, but equally content to be ‘weak with those who are weak.’

St. Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604) served as Bishop of Rome from 586-604, during a series of invasions and political turmoils. He was a skilled administrator and diplomat, as well as a gifted preacher and writer on the spiritual life. He wrote his famous treatise on pastoral care shortly after becoming pope in response to a request for advice from Gregory, Archbishop of Ravenna. His feast is celebrated on March 12.


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