Gregory the Great on today’s Gospel

Gregory the GreatSt. Pope Gregory I, "the Great", has a word for us about the Gospel passage for today’s Mass (Forty Gospel Homilies, 19,5 – PL 76:1157; CS 123:82 (Homily 11):

But what follows after this is dreadful.  For many are called, but few are chosen; many come to the faith, and only a few are brought to the heavenly kingdom.  See how many have gathered for today’s celebration?  We fill the church!  But yet who knows how few may be numbered in the flock of God’s elect.  All voices shout the name "Christ!", but not everyone’s life shouts it.  Many follow God with their voices but flee from him by their conduct.  Paul says, "They profess that they know God, but they deny him by their deeds"; and James, "Faith without works is worthless"; and the Lord says through the Psalmist, "O Lord my God, you have multiplied your wonderful works, and in your thoughts there is none who shall be likened to you.  I declared and spoke of them.  They exceed number."  At the Lord’s call the faithful were increased more than He could count, because they also come to the faith who do not belong to the number of the elect.  In this world they mingle with the faithful through their confession of faith, but in the next they do not merit to be counted in the ranks of the faithful because of their wicked way of life.  The sheepfold of our holy Church receives goats together with lambs, but as the Gospel bears witness, when the Judge comes He will separate the good from the evil as a shepherd sets the sheep apart from the goats.  Those who are subject to the pleasures of their bodies here cannot be counted as sheep there.  The Judge will separate from the ranks of the humble those who now exalt themselves on the horns of pride.  Those who share the heavenly faith in this life but seek the earth with the whole desire cannot obtain the kingdom of heaven.

And for those of you who are thinking that I haven’t posted enough about St. Augustine today, you should know that Gregory more than likely is leaning heavily on Augustine in this passage.  In the controversy with the Donatists, Augustine preached and wrote on the theme that the Church is a "corpus permixtum malis et bonis… body mixed through with the good and the bad alike".   At the end of time the Judge will sort them out, just as the goats and sheep are separated, just as the tares are set apart from the wheat to be burned.

This prompts me also to reflect on the need for an accurate translation of "pro multis" during the consecration of the Precious Blood.  The numbers of the elect may be vast, indeed too vast to be counted by us.  However, the multitudes will not include everyone.  There will be many who have entered this vale of tears, but not all.  Gregory the Great has given us food for thought.

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