Today September 30th, we celebrate the feast of St. Jerome, priest, Doctor of the Church, and the greatest biblical scholar, called by Pope Benedict XV the “Father of the Fathers.” Jerome was quite a colorful personality, known for his rather caustic and even pugilistic manner of argument. We learn from him that people of all temperaments and dispositions are capable of profound divine love.
At one point in his life, Jerome was quite a big shot in Rome. He was the personal right-hand man of Pope Damasus and leveraged his remarkable talents with considerable success. After the pope died, however, Jerome’s enemies seized the opportunity to oust him from positions of power and reduce his influence. Instead of fighting back and engaging in their worldly game, Jerome fled Rome and Church politics, choosing to live as a monk in Bethlehem. It was there that he lived the final 35 years of his saintly life, in prayer, study, scholarship, preaching, and correspondence. It seems he preferred the quiet life of contemplation in the caves of Palestine to the intrigue of power games at the papal court.
The truth is that Jerome was in love. His faith taught him to hear in Sacred Scripture the very Word of God and he responded to this amazing gift with fitting fascination. From the time of his conversion at the age of 18, Jerome made the Bible the center of his personal and professional life. He was especially intent on knowing Christ in the Old Testament. He spent much of his incredible intellectual efforts in textual criticism and translation of the Old Testament from the original Hebrew. He famously wrote that “ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
As we celebrate the feast of the Solitary of Bethlehem, we are challenged also to make the Bible the center of our spiritual lives. A day should not pass without the Christian soul tasting the delights of Scripture. Using a good Catholic commentary (the Navarre Bible and the Ignatius Bible for beginners; Catena Aurea and Cornelius a Lapide for proficients), we should spend 15 minutes every day meditating on the Word of God. With Bible reading in the morning and Rosary recitation in the evening, we will find our own peaceful Bethlehem cave amidst the stress and scattered frenzy of life in the world. St. Jerome, lover of God’s Word and teacher of the interior life, pray for us!
Fr Joesph Previtali