Grumpy old man or scripture scholar? We remember most saints for their great virtue, heroic acts of charity and great accomplishments; their miracles or profound preaching. However, in the case of St. Jerome whose memorial we mark today, his sarcastic temper is often quoted. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, "You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you" (Butler's Lives of the Saints).
Yet, Jerome’s contribution to Christianity is not a fiery temper but a scholarly gift through his prolific writings and best known for his translation of the Bible from the Hebrew to the Latin language. That translation, known as the Vulgate, remains in use and became the official text of the Church since the Council of Trent. For Jerome, any attack on God and Jesus Christ himself, any heresy was considered an enemy of God and Jerome made his feelings known. I don’t think you would have wanted him on the opposing side in a court of law. Saint Jerome may have had a passionate temper, was somewhat impatient with others, but it was his passion for the Lord that brought him holiness.
Jerome was a brilliant scholar and has left the Church numerous writings and scripture commentaries. Perhaps it was his brilliance and his own humanity that made him impatient to anything less than perfection. But, his many years as a hermit in Bethlehem, in the desert, and following the path of Christ in Palestine, his prayer and mysticism have won him a place as a great doctor of the Church.
The first reading for today’s Mass has Job once again sharing his angst with us:
Pity me, pity me, O you my friends,
for the hand of God has struck me!
Why do you hound me as though you were divine,
and insatiably prey upon me?
Oh, would that my words were written down!
Would that they were inscribed in a record:
That with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever!
But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust;
Whom I myself shall see:
my own eyes, not another's, shall behold him,
And from my flesh I shall see God;
my inmost being is consumed with longing. – Job 19: 21-27
Though Job suffered greatly, he never despaired of God. He remained ever faithful: “I know my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust . . .”
Our faith remains the life-line we hold on to in times of suffering, disappointment, or rejection. St. Jerome could be anyone of us. We all have reasons to feel sorry for ourselves, misunderstood, unloved, treated unfairly, disappointed or rejected by others. Yet, with the help of God’s grace we rise above it and know that we still remain faithful to a God who does not always make himself understood on our terms.
God’s grace is always larger, bigger, and stronger than anything we may encounter. St. Jerome was deeply in love with God and honest about his limitations. Yet, like Job remained ever faithful. We come to know Christ through his Church, in prayer and the sacraments, the Eucharist but primarily through reflection on the Scriptures. As St. Jerome famously said: Ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ. There is a lesson here for all of us.