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Pope Gregory The Great on Being a Watchman

And if the watchman see the sword coming, and sound not the trumpet: and the people look not to themselves, and the sword come, and cut off a soul from among them: he indeed is taken away in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at the hand of the watchman.

Ezekiel 33: 6

 

 

 

“Mortal, I have set you as a watchman to the house of Israel.” Note that Ezekiel, the one the Lord sent to preach the word, is called “a watchman.” A watchman or sentinel takes a post on the highest point, in order to see whoever may be coming from a distance. Similarly, anyone appointed watchman to a congregation should live a “higher” life so as to keep all things in sight.

As I say these words, I realize I am reproaching myself. For I do not preach as I ought, nor does my personal example accord with these principles that I’m preaching even now. I can’t deny my guilt, for I’ve become lethargic and negligent in my work; though perhaps by recognizing my failure I’ll win some sympathy and pardon from the judge. Before I started this work, while living in a religious community, I was able to refrain from talking about idle topics and to devote my mind to prayer. Since taking up this new pastoral position, I have been unable to concentrate on prayer, because I’m so distracted by my responsibilities.

For example, I have to consider questions about churches and communities and make assessments about people’s lives and acts. One minute I’m involved with a public policy issue, and the next minute I have to worry over outside threats to the well-being of the church under my care. I have to accept a public role in political matters in order to support good government. I have to bear patiently with law-breakers, and then confront them with an attitude of charity.

I am split and torn to pieces by the variety of weighty things on my mind. When I try to concentrate and pull myself together to preach, I feel inadequate to that sacred task. I am often compelled by the nature of my position to associate with worldly people, and sometimes I become casual in my speech; because if I spoke as my conscience dictates with all formality, I know some of them would simply drop me and that I could never influence them towards the goal I desire for them. So I endure their aimless chatter in patience. Then, because I am weak myself I am drawn gradually into idle chitchat — and I find myself saying the kind of thing that before I didn’t even want to listen to! I’ve come to relish wallowing where once I would have been ashamed to stray by accident.

What kind of a watchman am I? Far from the heights to which I aspire, I am constrained by my weakness. And yet — the one who created me and redeemed me and all humanity can give me, even in my unworthiness, some grace to glimpse the whole of life, and the skill and ability to speak of what I see. So it is for the love of God that I do not spare myself in preaching.