There are just two Popes referred to as ‘the Great’ – St Gregory, who reigned in at the start of the eighth century, and St Leo who was Pope from 440 until 461. Leo, whose feast we celebrate on Wednesday, was the embodiment of the ‘rock’ that Peter and his successors were called to be for the Church. At a time when the political and social world was falling apart – the Roman Empire was being overrun by the barbarian hordes, and the Church riven with heresy, Leo stood firm for the truths of the faith. He upheld orthodox teaching about the human and divine natures of Christ, and persuaded the Huns and Vandals to respect the weak and impoverished.
We still have many of his letters and sermons. They are models of clarity and explanation. Even today they are eminently readable and they teach us so much about Christian doctrine. They are also practical and give sensible advice to their recipients. Leo epitomises everything that characterises the good teacher: he has a firm grasp of the facts, he is imaginative in how he puts them across, and he is concerned that his hearers understand.
We face an uncertain world with threats of terror, economic gloom, and the collapse of many trusted institutions. The Church is under threat from new barbarians who do not appreciate its culture or teaching. Let us St Leo to pray for us to be like ‘rocks’ for those around us, and also let us pray for Pope Benedict his successor.