Friday, September 30, 2016

The Irascible Saint

A typical image of Jerome portrays him as a naked hermit,
either in the desert or at his books.
If you were to go back in time and visit the eras in which some of our greatest saints were active, no doubt you would be impressed at how these men and women of God made a mark on their times. Many of them served the Lord and their neighbors in such a radiant way that they became symbols of virtue: St Vincent de Paul, "the" saint of charity; St Francis de Sales, "the meekest man since Christ"; St Francis Xavier, the evangelizer of Asia; St Martin de Porres, so merciful that the rats and cats of the city ate together peacefully from his hand; St Therese (whose feast day is tomorrow), the saint of childlike trust.

You would probably not find today's saint in that list.

Jerome as a venerable prelate with his famous
 women disciples (the wealthy Roman Paula
and her daughter Eustachium) who followed
Jerome to Palestine and founded a monastery
St Jerome was nobody's idea of a saint, even in the late 4th century when the concept of sanctity was presumably broader than ours is now. St Jerome was brilliant and heroic, but ... he was not very nice. In fact, in the Church of his day he was best known (aside from his brilliance) for his cantankerous and quarrelsome disposition, and for the eloquent sharpness with which he skewered erroneous doctrines (and, unfortunately, the people who taught them) or responded to criticism. Even St Augustine found himself on the receiving end of St Jerome's famous barbs.

Jerome was a man of great passion: he felt (and fought) the passions of the flesh intensely, but was just as passionate for the truth and for the Word of God (this is the man who single-handedly translated the entire Bible to put it within reach of ordinary people).

He is not a saint because he was a picture-perfect disciple of Jesus, but because he perseveringly struggled to be a disciple. This is a real encouragement for me, whether it is my own character flaws or those of the sisters around me that overwhelm me.

It is this very imperfection of Jerome that reminds me of something Blessed James Alberione once said: "When Jesus takes possession of a soul, its defects no longer count."

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