Today, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Saint Jerome. Saint Jerome was born in a village in modern day Croatia in 347. He was ordained a priest in 377.
Jerome’s mastery of languages enabled him to translate the Hebrew and Greek books of the Bible into Latin, the language of the common people. This translation is called the Vulgate. Jerome died on this day in Bethlehem in 420.
For over 1,000 years, Jerome’s Vulgate was the official Latin Bible of the Catholic Church. In 1592, the Clementine edition of the Vulgate became the standard Bible text of the Roman Catholic Church. It remained so until 1979 when a revised official Latin translation of the Bible was published. All translations into the vernacular are based on this 1979 text.
As Living with Christ missalette points out, “Jerome’s accomplishments in biblical studies are without parallel in Christian history”. For this reason, he has been named a Doctor of the Church.
In this context, “Doctor” has nothing to do with medical expertise. “Doctor” means “exemplar and teacher”. A doctor is a person who has made a significant contribution to Christian teaching. Writings, preaching and teachings are so profound and insightful that they are considered relevant to Christians of any age in the Church. The obvious question is: “What could a 73-year-old priest who lived almost 1,600 years ago possibly teach us?”
To help us answer this question, let us examine the last section of today’s Holy Gospel. Jesus meets a would-be disciple. But this individual wants to postpone following the Lord. “Let me first say farewell to those at my home”. Jesus responds, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”.
There are 2 messages here. The 1st message is that that we cannot use our relationships, friendships or family obligations as an excuse to avoid serving Christ. The invitation to discipleship is a radical one. Discipleship ultimately requires everything of us. The commitment to Jesus Christ demands a total, complete and entire response. Our relationship with Jesus must come above all else.
The 2nd message is linked to the plow. The plow uproots the weeds, briars, grasses, etc. It removes all which threatens to crowd out the crops. The plow prepares the ground for new crops; it enables the soil to be productive. Jesus is encouraging us to remove and leave behind those thoughts, words and actions that can prevent spiritual growth. Once these things have fallen away, Jesus invites us to persevere, to be firm and constant, to stay the course, to move forward.
Let’s return to the question: “What could a 73-year-old priest who lived almost 1,600 years ago possibly teach us?” St. Jerome has left us a treasure that can help us with these 2 areas of our lives. First, this treasure can help us to put God first and not to use the practicalities of daily life as an excuse for not following the Lord. Second, this treasure can help us to never look back, but to choose to plow ahead with the Lord leading us. That unfailing and enduring treasure is the Bible.
Sacred Scripture is the Word of God. As Vatican II teaches, although you heard Terry’s voice and my voice with your ears, it is God himself who is speaking to our hearts, minds and souls whenever the words of Sacred Scripture are read.
Furthermore, Scripture is referred to as the living Word of God because the Bible’s words are addressed to us as much as to the people for whom they were written. Through the action of the Holy Spirit, Jesus is continually speaking to us now, today, as he once spoke with his disciples as they went along the road. It is for this reason that St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.
In other words, every passage in the Gospel (including the one that we have just heard)) is not just a retelling of a past event. Every account has relevance for our lives. When we accept the Gospel as the living Word of God today, we know that Jesus is not absent from us. Rather, we become aware that Jesus is present in our lives – listening to us and speaking with us, being near to us, being close to us, being intimate with us.
If we allow Sacred Scripture to play such a central role, we will be able to integrate the 2 messages of today’s Gospel into our daily living: to develop an undivided commitment to Jesus Christ and to keep our hands firmly on the plow.
As our Eucharist continues, let us ask God for the grace to be like St. Jerome. May our commitment to the living Word of God transform us into true disciples and true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ as we journey on the road.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
September 30, 2019