October / November 2018 - Vol. 100

.taste and see the Lord is good
Pleasure and Spiritual Fulfillment

from a homily by Gregory the Great  (540-604 AD)

O taste and see that the Lord is good! - Psalm 34:8

We are aware of a difference between the pleasure we experience in our bodies and that we experience in our hearts. Physical pleasures, when we lack them, arouse in us an all-consuming desire for them. As soon as we possess and devour them, though, our satisfaction turns into distaste.

Pleasures of the spirit, on the other hand, seem distasteful when we do not possess them, but once they begin to be ours, our desire awakens. The more hungrily we seek them when we have begun to enjoy them, the more do we enjoy them even as we hunger for them. With our bodies it is the desire that gives us pleasure, not the gratification of our desires; with the spirit, as the desire is nothing, the fulfillment is all the more pleasing. Physical desire leads to satiety, and satiety leads to renewed desire.

The pleasure of the spirit increases our inner longing even while it satisfies us, since the more we savor it, the more we perceive that there is something more to long for. When we do not possess it, however, we cannot love it, because its savor is unknown. Who can love what is unknown? Therefore the psalmist counsels us, Taste and see that the Lord is good. He means that we will not get to know the Lord's goodness unless we taste it. You must taste the food of life with your hearts, so that by trying it you can become capable of loving its goodness."...

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to a treasure hidden in a field. Someone finds this treasure and hides it, and in the joy of discovery , goes and sell everything he or she possesses and buys that field... The treasure the Lord speaks of is the desire for heaven, and the field in which the treasure is hidden is our zeal in pursuing heaven. Those people truly sell everything and buy the field who renounce the pleasures of the flesh and conquer their desire for the things of the earth by the discipline of heaven. Then nothing their bodies value is agreeable to them any longer, and their spirits have no fear of physical death.

We must consider, my friends, why the Lord says that there is more joy in heaven over converted sinners than over the righteous who have stood firm. But is this not what we experience every day? We often see people who aren't oppressed by any burden of sin. They remain firm in the path of righteousness, they do nothing that is forbidden-but neither are they filled with eager longing for their heavenly home. They allow themselves all that is allowed, since they are aware that they have done nothing forbidden. Frequently they are reluctant to do the highest good because their consciences are blissfully untroubled.

On the other hand, sometimes those who remember that they have done something wrong feel the sting of conscience, and their sorrow sets them on fire with the love of God...

Let us enkindle our hearts, my friends, let our faith again grow warm in what it believes, let our desire for heavenly things take fire. So to love is to be already on the way. We should not let any adversity call us back from the joy of this inner festivity. No difficulty on their journey alters the desire of people wanting to reach some particular place. You must not let any seductive good fortune lead you astray: they are foolish travelers who see a pleasant meadow on their journey and forget where they are going.

We must let our hearts yearn for our heavenly home with all our desire; let them seek nothing in this world which they must leave quickly. If we are truly sheep of the heavenly Shepherd, and are not arrested by any delight along the way, we shall be satisfied with the eternal pastures on our arrival there.

(excerpt from Be Friends of God: Spiritual Reading from Gregory the Great, translated from the Latin by John Leinenweber, 1990, Cowley Publications, Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Artwork credits: (c) https://sermonquotes.com/psalm-2/12157-taste-and-see-that-the-lord-is-good.html

Who was Gregory the Great?

A few highlights from his life written by editors of Christianity Today Magazine

Noble beginning
Gregory (540-604 AD) was descended from Roman nobles with a strong legacy of Christian faith. He was related to two previous popes (Felix III and Agapitus I), his aunts were nuns, and his parents joined cloisters in their later years. He was raised in Rome when it was only a shell of its former glory.

By the age of 30, he was the chief administrative official of the city, responsible for finances, police, provisioning, and public works an experience that helped him hone his administrative skills and, together with his personal wealth, gave him the opportunity to create six monasteries.

Yet Gregory remained dissatisfied, and upon his father's death in 574, he converted his house into a monastery and retired to a life of contemplation and prayer. During these years, the happiest in Gregory's life, he began a detailed study of the Scriptures. Here he also ruined his health with fasting, a sacrifice that would precipitate his early death.

Called again to service
His administrative skills did not remain unappreciated. In 577 Pope Benedict appointed Gregory one of the seven deacons of Rome, and Pope Pelagius II sent him to Constantinople in 578 as representative to the imperial court, then later recalled him to serve as his confidential adviser.

In 589 a flood destroyed the grain reserves of Rome, instigating a famine and then a plague that swept through Rome and killed Pope Pelagius. Gregory was elected to succeed him. Though he had tried to refuse the office, once elected, he went to work with vigor.

To deal with the famine, Gregory instituted a city-wide penance, fed people from the church's granaries, and organized systematic relief for the poor.

Gregory then set himself reforming the church. He removed high officials "for pride and misdeeds," enforced celibacy, replaced lay officers with monks, and initiated a reorganization of "the patrimony of Peter," the vast land holdings of the church. The efficient and humane management of these estates brought in the revenue necessary to run the church as well as perform tasks the imperial government was neglecting...

Pastoral care
Gregory also was actively concerned about the work of priests. He wrote a book of instruction for bishops, On Pastoral Care, in which he wrote, "Act in such a way that your humility may not be weakness, nor your authority be severity. Justice must be accompanied by humility, that humility may render justice lovable." It became a manual for holy life throughout the Middle Ages.

Gregory believed preaching was one of the clergy's primary duties, and he conducted a preaching tour of area churches. His Homilies on the Gospels was published in 591 and widely used for hundreds of years.

His interest in church music has been honored, as well: his name has been given to the plainsong ("Gregorian chant") that developed over the next few hundred years.

His frequent correspondence across the world shows him well aware of evangelistic opportunities in Britain. So it is not surprising that in 596 he sent Augustine, along with 40 monks, on a mission to "this far corner of the world."

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