In service to one another

Jesus is true God and true man.  November 10th, is the feast of St. Leo the Great, who lived in the 400s and served the Church as a deacon and as Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I.  He had many important contributions to the Church, but today I want to focus on a message from something I read recently—a letter commonly called “The Tome” that St. Leo wrote to Flavian, the Bishop of Constantinople.  In it, he defends the Church against a heresy that claimed Jesus to not be fully human.  He staunchly and beautifully describes the humanity and divinity of Jesus, united in one person yet distinctly fully both—one with God the Father and one with us.  As we approach Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas, St. Leo’s words on the union of Jesus’s human and divine natures can help us reflect on Jesus’s humility and how we might mirror that in our own lives during these seasons of charity and hope.

As I read the letter, I was struck by the images of the Lord.  St. Leo places statements of his humanness next to those indicative of his divinity.  Jesus was subject to the pains and difficulties of the world, from birth through crucifixion.

  • “the lowliness of the cradle”
  • “helpless infancy in that Herod impiously tries to kill him”
  • “to hunger, to thirst, to grow tired”

But at the same time, his power as true God was evident.

  • “the greatness of the Almighty is proclaimed by the voices of angels [to the shepherds]”
  • “He is Lord of all, before whom the Magi rejoice to kneel in supplication”
  • “to satisfy 5000 men with five loaves of bread”

Our God (eternal, immortal, and of power beyond what we can comprehend) humbled himself to become man.  As we know, he did not become a man of earthly power or even an average “middle class” man.  Instead, he chose to be born a baby in difficult circumstances [2] and required to flee from the earliest of ages [3] only to be later rejected by his own community [4], abandoned by his friends [5], and killed in a most terrible way because of our sins [6].  Through it all, he was and is most merciful: caring for those around him and saving us through the ultimate sacrifice only he could make.  What a lesson this is for us to remember.  If the God of all can focus on serving those around him in his life and all of us in his death, then surely no matter who we are, we too can humble ourselves to serve those around us.  As St. Leo defended, since Jesus was not just fully God but also fully human, his human humility can be a model for our own humility.  His reaction to situations can be the same as our reactions.

St. Leo the Great modeled this for us in a society affected by some of the same needs as our own.  As Pope Benedict XVI recalled in a Wednesday address, St. Leo “enlivened charity in a Rome tried by famines, an influx of refugees, injustice, and poverty [7].”

Pausing to look, I see need all around me.  The man I see at the deli, who could use a warm meal or a conversation.  The woman on the street corner who begs for money most days, but I do not yet know her name.  The migrants who have arrived in my town who need my welcome and support because they have been rejected and stigmatized by so many in their home and here.  The next-door neighbor who, behind a forced smile, is struggling to have any hope.

I cannot solve all the problems.  But if God can become man for each of us and all of us, surely I can do a little more to help those around me.  Thanksgiving and Advent can be a time of much anticipation and joy, to remember the salvation offered to us by Christ and to help show his love and mercy to the world—a world filled with people who may not feel that joy or know the true God.  If I just do a little bit to reach out to someone around me to help lift the person up by sharing a bit of the generosity that the Lord has shared with me, maybe I can help reflect the light of Christ a little bit more in the world.  Will you join me in reaching out to the stranger with charity and love like Jesus and St. Leo modeled for us?  Maybe together, we can help focus our communities on the truth and hope of Jesus.

St. Leo the Great, pray for us!


Photo Credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P. | Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[1] St. Leo to Archbishop Flavian, June 13, 449, in “St. Leo the Great Letters” in The Fathers of the Church, ed. Roy Joseph Deferrari et al, trans. Brother Edmund Hunt CSC (New York: Fathers of the Church Press, 1957), 92-105.

[2] Luke 2:7, Jesus born in the manager

[3] Matthew 2:13-16, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph flee to Egypt to avoid persecution from Herod

[4] Mark 6:1-6, Jesus rejected by those in Nazareth

[5] Luke 22:44-46, Jesus’s agony in the garden when his disciples fall asleep; 22:55-62, Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus

[6] John 19:1-7, Luke 23:44-46, Jesus’s torture and crucifixion

[7] Benedict XVI, “General Audience on St. Leo the Great” (General Audience in Paul VI Audience Hall, Vatican City, March 5, 2008),

Michael Anctil

About the Author: Michael Anctil

Michael Anctil is in his first year of formation and studies at Theological College and the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. His home parish is St. Thomas Aquinas, Charlottesville, VA.