In Matthew 11:2-10 Jesus refers to John the Baptist as the messenger who would go before Him, based on Isaiah 40. Here St. Gregory the Great takes that title, messenger, and applies it for every Christian. This is a good example of Gregory’s preaching. He wasn’t noted as much for his theological mind as some others; his genius lay more in practical matters, as shown by his able administration and leadership in the church of his day. He also had talent in applying the Word, and we see that here. That makes him more entertaining to read. Even today his examples and illustrations are lively and his exhortations are on-point. We might be tempted to say, “Oh, I’m not a pastor, I’m not super-smart or educated, I can’t speak up” — but St. Gregory pretty decisively sinks that notion, and in a fairly entertaining fashion, as well. Enjoy, and a blessed Advent to you all.
You likewise can reach to the sublimity of this name, if you so wish. For each one among you, in as far as he is able, in as far as he responds to the grace of the heavenly invitation, should he recall his neighbour from evildoing; should he seek to encourage him in doing what is good; when he reminds him of the eternal kingdom, or of the punishment of wrong-doers; whenever he employs words of holy import, he is indeed an angel. And let no one say: I am not capable of giving warning; I am not a fit person to exhort others. Do what you can, lest your single talent, unprofitably employed, be required of you with punishment. For he that had received no more than one talent was careful to bury it in the earth, rather than put it to profit. (Mt. xxv.)
We read that in the Tabernacle of God there were not alone golden drinking goblets but, at the command of the Lord, there also were made ladles, or spoons, for filling the drinking vessels. For the goblets here understand fulness of holy doctrine, for the ladles a small and restricted acquaintance with doctrine. One person being filled with the doctrine of sacred truth, inebriates the minds of those that hear him. Through what he says he perfectly fills the cup. Another knows that he cannot give fulness, but because he gives warnings as best he can, he truly offers a taste from his ladle!
You, therefore, who live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in the Holy Church, if you cannot fill up the goblets with the teachings of holy wisdom, as well then as you can, as far as the divine bounty has endowed you, give to your neighbours spoonfuls of the good word!
And when you consider that you have yourself made some little progress, draw others along with you; seek to make comrades on the road to God. Should one among you, Brethren, stroll out towards the forum or the baths, he will invite a friend whom he thinks is not busy to keep him company. This simple action of our ordinary life is pleasant to you, and if it be that you are going towards God, give a thought not to journey alone. Hence it is written: He that heareth, let him say: come(Apoc. xxii. 17); so let him who heard in his heart the invitation of divine love, pass on to his neighbours around about him, the message of the invitation. And though a man may not have even bread wherewith to give an alms to the hungry; yet, what is still more precious, he is able to give who possesses but a tongue. For it is a greater thing to strengthen with the nourishment of a word that will feed the mind for ever, than to fill with earthly bread a stomach of perishable flesh.
Do not, my dearest Brethren, withhold from your brother the charity of a word. I admonish myself with you, that we abstain from every idle word, that we turn away from useless chatter. In as far as you are able to overcome the tongue, scatter not your words to the wind, since our Judge has said: Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment.(Mt. xii. 36.)
An idle word is one that is spoken without any profit in uprightness, or that is uttered without grounds of sufficient need. Direct your idle conversation towards a fondness for what will edify; think how quickly the days of your life are passing; recall how stern is the Judge Who is coming. Keep this counsel before the eyes of your soul; bring it to mind of your neighbour, so that, as far as in you lies, you may not fail to warn him, and so you also may with John, merit to be called angels, by Him Who liveth and reigneth world without end, Amen.
— St. Gregory the Great, On the Gospel: Given to the People in the Basilica of SS. Marcellius and Peter