Daily Homily: Your Word Became the Joy of My Heart

Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church, Sept. 30

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2 Timothy 3:14-17
Psalm 119:9,10,11,12,13,14
Matthew 13:46-52

Saint Jerome was born in the Roman Province of Dalmatia in the town of Stridon (located in modern-day Slovenia) in 342/7, he studied in Rome and, after leaving behind a life of worldly pleasure, became a Christian in 366 and devoted himself to the ascetic life.

He made his way to the East and lived as a hermit in the Desert of Chalcis, where he learned Greek and Hebrew. As he studied and meditated on the Word of God, he experienced a deep regret for the sins of his youth. He was “keenly aware of the contrast between the pagan mentality and the Christian life: a contrast made famous by the dramatic and lively ‘vision’ – of which he has left us an account – in which it seemed to him that he was being scourged before God because he was ‘Ciceronian rather than Christian’ (cf. Ep. 22,30)” (Pope Benedict XVI, 7 November 2007).

Saint Jerome returned to Rome in 382 and worked as a secretary and counselor to Pope Damasus, who encouraged him to produce a new Latin translation of the Bible. When Pope Damasus died in 385, Jerome went to the Holy Land and Egypt. From 386 to his death on September 30, 419/20, he stayed in Bethlehem. There, “he commented on the Word of God; he defended the faith, vigorously opposing various heresies; he urged the monks on to perfection; he taught classical and Christian culture to young students; he welcomed with a pastor’s heart pilgrims who were visiting the Holy Land” (Pope Benedict XVI, 7 November 2007).

Saint Jerome comments on today’s Gospel as follows. With regard to the first parable about the pearl of great price: “The good pearls that the salesman seeks are the Law and the prophets… but the one pearl of very great price is the knowledge of the Savior and the concealed mystery of his Passion and Resurrection. When the businessman finds it, he acts as the apostle Paul does. He despises as offscourings and refuse all the mysteries of the Law and the prophets and the former observances in which he had lived blamelessly, that he might gain Christ. It is not the case that the finding of the new pearl means that the old pearls are condemned. Rather, it means that in comparison with it, every other gem is rather cheap” (Saint Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, CUA Press, 164).

In the second parable, Jerome sees a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy: “Behold, I am sending many fishermen to you”  (Jeremiah 16:16). Jerome continues, saying that the fishermen who became apostles, cast a net of Gospel-doctrines “into the sea of the world, and it stretches out in the midst of the waves until the present day, capturing anything that falls into it from the salty and bitter waters. That is to say, it catches both good and bad men, both the best fish and the worse. But when the consummation and end of the world comes, as he explains more clearly below, at that time the net will be drawn to shore. Then a true judgment for separating the fish will be demonstrated, and, as though in some very quiet harbor, the good will be cast into the vessels of the heavenly mansions, but the flame of Gehenna will take the bad to be baked and dried” (Saint Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, CUA Press, 164-165).

Jesus wants his apostles not only to hear the parables, but to understand them since they will be teachers, a vocation that Jerome fulfilled faithfully. The apostles impress the Word of God on the tablets of their heart. “They had been instructed in the mysteries of the heavenly kingdoms. They were powerful in the wealth of the householder, and from the treasury of their doctrines they cast out new things and old. Thus whatever they proclaimed in the Gospel, they proved by means of the words of the Law and the prophets. This is why the bride says in the Song of Songs:  ‘I have save for you new things with the old, my brother’ (7:13)” (Saint Jerome, Commentary on Matthew, CUA Press, 165).

Saint Jerome teaches us first of all that, like him, we should seek the pearl of great price and be prepared to sell all things to obtain it. Second, we can imitate his love for Sacred Scripture, which is capable of giving us “wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”. Ignorance of the Scriptures, Jerome says, is ignorance of Christ. Jerome saw prayer as our speaking to Christ and reading Scripture as Christ speaking to us. Third, Jerome served the Church with his talents and gifts, and, through the Latin translation of the Bible, made a lasting contribution. He invested the many talents given him and presented them to his Lord on the day of his passing. Fourthly, Jerome was known to have a difficult personality and hot-temper. He shows how even this passion and energy can be placed at the service of the Gospel. Throughout his long life, he was attentive to the Holy Spirit and was obedient to God.

Readers may contact Fr Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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