The Feast of St. Jerome
Whenever we celebrate a great Doctor of the Church, we’re usually able to point out some particular virtue that distinguished him, his charity, perhaps, or his gentleness, or his patience. In the case of St Jerome, we are faced with a difficulty. In so many ways, he seems not to have been an easy man to get along with. He had the sharpest tongue of all the Fathers of the Church. His irascible temperament was proverbial. His vast store of insults would have been a goldmine for our social media, if it had been available in his time. The only long-term companion who stuck it out in Jerome’s company was a lion. That says something.
Yet here we are, venerating this man as a saint. What’s going on? Of course, Jerome was a fearless champion of truth, and a brilliant theologian. His linguistic flair has left its mark on Latin Christendom. No other Christian writer, not even St Augustine, has done more to shape our efforts to put faith into words. But the Church does not canonize anyone on merit alone, as if a mention in the missal were some sort of prize.
Today, it is above all the ascetic St Jerome that we remember. He, who had such an eye for eternal truth, saw himself, too, with clarity. He saw the work that needed to be done in his heart. It was immense, and yet he did not shy away from it. He knew he needed to be changed. He assumed the battle of his own conversion, like a true monk. Well into his life, he submitted freely to solitude, to the difficult discipline of keeping quiet, to an experience of great poverty.
Today’s memorial celebrates a miracle of grace. It shows us that God can make saints out of the most unpromising raw material. I find that reminder profoundly reassuring. Given sufficient humility, courage, and trust on our part, there is hope for all of us.