Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30 - Jerome, Ascetic, Translator, Doctor of the Church

As he looked back upon his life, Jerome could remember all too well those days that he had gone to the catacombs with shame on his face and guilt in his mind. He had enjoyed the festivities of the night before but the faces of his mother and father haunted him the morning after. They had raised him within the embrace of the Faith but he had found the World more persuasive once he was beyond their physical reach. Their faith could not save him but it could pester him and point him toward a life unlike his own. The education he was receiving was excellent but it left him on his own and to his own devices. Like all of us, Jerome's own devices couldn't save him but were more than capable of ruining him.

So, Jerome descended into the catacombs and walked among the bodies of the Christian dead. Running his hands over the inscriptions of the names of the martyrs, his guilt only deepened. The Faith that had motivated and animated them seemed conspicuously absent in his own life. He tried to fill up that void with pleasure and carnal delight and it took his mind off of his brokenness--for a moment. Ultimately, though, life would come crashing back upon him after his all-too-short reprieve. With it came the guilt that sent him underground to the dead. The light filtered down meagerly in solitary shafts of illumination that would cast the dark aside for a small section of the earthy tunnels. But, then, he moved onward and back into the darkness. In his life, the light of the faith of his mother and father would intrude upon his brilliance and fame and remind him of a life more abundant and free that still haunted his dreams and hopes. But, then, he moved onward in his life and found only more darkness and loneliness.

These late night and early morning trips to the halls of the dead were a type of penance for Jerome but they were simultaneously self-torturing and self-revealing. Jerome converted and was baptized. Further, he followed his own maxim well: "Be ever engaged, so that whenever the devil calls he may find you occupied." His asceticism is still regarded as extreme and devoted. He was unwillingly ordained upon the condition that he could continue a lifestyle of asceticism and disconnection from the world. His gifted mind helped him to translate the scripture from Hebrew and Greek into Latin to make one of the most influential translations in the history of the scripture: the Vulgate. He worked for unity and orthodoxy within the Church and, yet, remained disconnected from it because of some incredible desire for ascetic righteousness and otherness. He was willing to serve as a pastoral caregiver to any who sought it and, yet, he was equally comfortable in solitude and the lonely work of translation.

Reflecting back upon his walks among the dead and the importance of the lives of the martyrs for him, he wrote, "We do not worship the relics of the martyrs, but honor them in our worship of Him whose martyrs they are. We honor the servants in order that the respect paid to them may be reflected back to the Lord." For Jerome, this statement was a statement faith in practice that told much of how he found his way to the Faith of his parents. He had been ferried to repentance by shame and along the way that his father, mother, brothers, and sisters had prepared for him by living out a faith that stood in opposition to the vanities of life. Jerome died outside of Bethlehem in the year 420 having contributed mightily to the study of scripture and his Lord Jesus Christ.

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