ARS, France, OCT. 9, 2009 (Zenit.org).- St. Jerome is said to have removed a thorn from the paw of a lion who would attack him. The archbishop of Boston says this image is a calling for priests to love even their enemies.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley reflected on the legend of St. Jerome when he addressed priests on retreat in Ars, in the context of the Year for Priests and the 150th anniversary of St. John Vianney. The seven-day retreat ended last Sunday.
The cardinal pointed to St. Jerome’s description of the first Christians, about whom it was said, “They live near us, in our midst, but they do not abort and they respect marriage. This is strange!” The cardinal suggested this letter “could have been written last week.”
Christians are called to be different, the cardinal illustrated, pointing to the “golden legend” of St. Jerome. This story depicts the saint surrounded by a group of monks. When they are attacked by a lion, they all flee, but Jerome stays: He sees that the lion is lame and he removes a thorn from his paw.
Cardinal O’Malley extracted this lesson: “We must behave like this. Christ is our physician, our Savior. We must be convinced and convince others and have the grace that our enemies become our brothers.”
Nevertheless, the cardinal acknowledged, priests also sometimes betray their mission. He spoke of the Apostles abandoning Jesus in his passion.
“Peter, on the afternoon of his ordination, cut off Malchus’ ear, saw the soldiers, and fled,” he said. “He tried to do what all of us have tried at some time, to follow Jesus, but at a prudent distance. However, someone recognized him, not a soldier armed with a sword, but a servant — who treated him with contempt — and he denied his Master.”
Yet, Cardinal O’Malley continued, at the moment of “breakfast” on the shore of the lake, after the Resurrection, Christ asks Peter three times: “Do you love Me?” Peter answers that he loves him and Christ says to him: “Follow me.”
Spiritual authors evoke this second calling, the “second opportunity” — a new opportunity after our slips, our withdrawals. We, as priests can all receive this grace of a new calling, like St. Teresa of Jesus who received a second conversion before the image of the Ecce Homo, he affirmed.
Truth and liberty
Cardinal O’Malley also commented on the first reading from the day’s Mass, taken from the Book of Nehemiah: “The king saw Nehemiah’s sadness and asked that he open his heart to him. Nehemiah said that his heart was broken because the Holy City, Jerusalem, and the Temple were in ruins.”
“We also see the problems of secularization, the sexual scandals, the Church scorned and abandoned by so many people,” the prelate reflected. “But the king acceded to Nehemiah’ solicitude who requested: ‘Send me to Judah to reconstruct the city of my forefathers.'”
The Psalm also evokes the exile of the People, the cardinal continued. He said that this exile reminds us of the “situation of the Church today, in the midst of indifferent or hostile persons, skeptical people, who resist the fact that a truth can interfere with their liberty, the autonomy they claim.”
Cardinal O’Malley referred as well to the young man of the Gospel of the day, who said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” The cardinal recalled that Jesus’ reply affirms “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Similarly, the Boston prelate observed, the first disciples asked: “Where do you live?” And they hear the answer: “Come and see …” and “they discover that he is a Teacher without a home.”
“He was born in a stable and was buried in another’s tomb,” the cardinal said.
He proposed that this image can be applied to priestly celibacy: “Our celibacy is a participation in the fact that there is no home for the friend of the Bridegroom and the other disciples. Celibacy without love has no meaning. […] It should, on the contrary, be the sign of the joy of the faith in the spirit, in the risen Christ.”
“May the holy Cure d’Ars help us find our way of Ars here on earth,” the cardinal prayed, “our way in a renewed interior life of profound friendship with Christ and with our brother priests.”