Memorial of Pope St. Gregory the Great
Pope St. Gregory the Great was the first monk-pope. He occupies an important place in the history of Christian spirituality by his teaching on martyrdom.
In the Catholic Catechism we read that “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell” (#1035). “Immediately!” That’s really scary. But the fear of hell has been encouraged by Jesus from the very beginning of his ministry.
Almost six hundred years later Pope St. Gregory the Great began to teach about immediate entrance into heaven by martyrdom, even a spiritual martyrdom.1 I fear hell, but the desire for heaven is even better for us, and St Gregory the Great would have us strive for what is best of all, that love of God by which, at the moment of death, we can go immediately to heaven. He writes, “Let us, then, for love of God, learn to overcome ourselves. If we do this, not only will we escape the oncoming punishments, but we will be rewarded with glory together with the martyrs. For although … persecution is lacking, nevertheless our time of peace has its own martyrdom. Even though we do not bend our bodily neck to the sword, nevertheless with the spiritual sword we slay our evil desires.”2 That’s a spiritual martyrdom.
So, let us pray to St. Joseph every day for a happy death, especially the happiness of going straight to heaven by the grace of faithfully living a spiritual martyrdom. And if our love of God is too weak for that, God’s love for us is not. In his great mercy, our Lord provides another way to go straight to heaven. It is the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick that wipes away all our sins and their penalties! So, fear hell, desire heaven, love God and you will go straight to heaven with your last breath!
- New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. 6, Gregory I (The Great), Pope, St. McGraw-Hill, NY, p. 766.
- Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels, 1, 3, 4.