Ascension of the Lord

TENSION BETWEEN STATE & CHURCH OR POPES AND OTHERS IS FAR FROM NEW! Which Holy Father wrote these words: “… with all my powers I have tried to see that the holy Church, the bride of God, our lady and mother, might return to the beauty which is rightly hers and remain free, chaste and catholic. But, because this so greatly displeases our ancient foe, he has armed his minions against us so that they might overturn all our efforts. What he has been unable to do from [antiquity] he now does against us and particularly against the Apostolic See. Do not be surprised that, as the time goes on, he will fight all the harder to wipe out the Christian religion.” Was it Pope Saint John Paul II speaking of Communists? Pope Benedict of Nazis? Pope Francis of atheists? It was written almost a millennia ago by the man the Church honors on May 25: Pope Saint Gregory VII. After praying the Collect for the holy Mass offered in his memory, I will explain his importance to us who are waging the same battles he once waged.

Saint Gregory VII, Pope – Collect

Give to your Church, we pray, O Lord,
that spirit of fortitude and zeal for justice
which you made to shine forth
in Pope Saint Gregory the Seventh,
so that, rejecting evil, she may be free
to carry out in charity whatever is right.
Through our Lord Jesus … for ever and ever. Amen.

A MAN WHO DID NOT WANT TO BE POPE. Born between 1020 and 1025 in Italy, he was baptized Hildebrand; his father was probably a carpenter and his mother’s name is unknown. His uncle was an Abbot of a Monastery in Rome, which is where he was educated and entered Religious Life as a Monk. He served as a Chaplain to his mentor who had a 17-month-long, turbulent reign as Pope Gregory VI. In 1046, he went into exile with the Pope when he resigned as the 147th Successor of Saint Peter. After the Pope’s death in 1047, Hildebrand returned to the solitude of monastic life – but not for very long!

In 1049, Pope Leo IX, the EIGHTH Pope in 10 years [we live in calmer times!], made him Abbot of a Monastery in dire need of structural and administrative reconstruction. He served Pope Leo as an advisor, and was among his possible successors, which he did not want. However, in 1073, after FOUR more Popes, he was elected and took the name Pope Gregory VII to honor the Pope who he had served as a Chaplain.

Like most of his immediate predecessors and successors, he faced a Church in utter turmoil, the biggest woes being: scandalous corruption among the clergy; a painful schism that split the Church in two; and the interference of civil rulers who wanted to choose the Church’s clergy and control its properties. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it! Which is why some say the Church MUST be divinely instituted and led by the Holy Spirit – otherwise, she would have crashed countless times over our 2,000-year history.

Despite widespread opposition, Pope Gregory VII promulgated many reforms and policies to correct all abuses. One of the most famous spats was with the German Emperor Henry IV, who sought to depose the Pope who threatened him with excommunication; eventually he carried it out. As the image above depicts, the Emperor repented, sought forgiveness and readmission to the Sacraments from the Pope himself. Casting down his royal robes and crown, he performed the penances the Pope prescribed. However, he rebelled again and again, was excommunicated each time, and eventually forced Pope Gregory to flee from Rome, but he never gave up the papacy! He died in exile on May 25, 1085, and was canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1728.

Many, including me, wonder why Bishops do not excommunicate public authorities who claim to be Catholic but allow – or even promote – policies and practices that violate Catholic Teaching. Yet as history shows: excommunication is often ineffectual or it backfires. Besides, each one of us must stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ personally – to defend what we do or fail to do in this life. May Pope Saint Gregory VII intercede for all of us, and help us all become truly more Catholic in word and deed … before it is too late!

With God’s love and my prayers,

Very Rev. Michael J. Kreder, VF, KCHS