Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Tuesday of the Twenty-Sixth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Memorial of St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor
September 30, 2014
Job 3:1-3.11-17.20-23, Ps 88, Lk 9:51-56
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below:
The following points were attempted in the homily:
- Today in the Gospel, we encounter the mystery of rejection in the life of Jesus. St. Luke tells us that he had literally “fixed his face” with determination on Jerusalem to complete his salvific mission, but before he would do that, he was going to try to include the Samaritans in that saving mission. He had already been to Samaria before, where he met the woman at the well. The end of that scene had the Samaritans all exclaiming in Sychar around the well of Jacob, “We have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” But because Jesus was planning to head on to Jerusalem, with whom the Samaritans had been in a theological war for centuries, “they would not welcome him.” They put their disagreement with the Jews about their receiving their Savior. Many times people can put their own grievances, their own petty scores to settle, above God and the work of salvation he wants to accomplish. People put conditions on God’s saving work. “We’ll allow you, the Savior of the World, to enter our village provided that you promise that you won’t go to Jerusalem!” Even though all of us recognize how silly it is when the Samaritans of yesteryear do it, we need to become more conscious of the way we likewise refuse welcoming Jesus. He tells us, for example, in St. Matthew’s Gospel that whenever we refuse to give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, care to the sick, welcome to the stranger, clothing to the naked and visits to the imprisoned, we fail to welcome him in need (Mt 25:31-46). What happened in Samaria in today’s Gospel is simply one more illustration of what St. John described in the prologue to his Gospel, that Jesus “came to his own and his own received him not.”
- Today’s feast day of St. Jerome (347-420) is an occasion for us to examine one very important way in particular we are welcoming Jesus, or ignoring him or rejecting it. It’s with regard to Sacred Scripture. St. Jerome is famous for having translated the Bible from its original languages (Hebrew and Greek) into the common language of the people, Latin, so that not only all people who could read could have access to it, but more importantly all those who could have it read to them if they were illiterate could also have access. St. Jerome once famously said that because the Gospel contains Jesus’ words and deeds, because the Old Testament points to Christ and the epistles and other writings of the New Testament show the development of the life of Christ in Jesus’ Mystical Body the Church, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” If we don’t know Sacred Scripture, we don’t know the Lord anywhere close to the level we could or should.
- This is a lesson St. Jerome himself learned relatively early in life. His father had provided him a tremendous education in his native Dalmatia (modern day Bosnia-Herzegovina). He eventually went to Rome to study under the greatest Latin and Greek teacher in the empire and he excelled. He eventually gave himself to various studies as a scholar. But when he about 26, he caught an illness that killed two of his friends and roommates. While he was in delirium because of the fever and thinking he was about to die, he imagined himself to be in front of Christ at his particular judgment. He was asked who he was and replied that he was a Christian. The reply he heard was, “You’re lying. You are a Ciceronian, for where your treasure is, there is your heart as well.” It struck him to the core. He knew far more about the writings of Cicero than he did the sacred writings inspired by God. He had placed his heart in earthly learning and eloquence rather than in God and in what had given. This brought about a great change in his heart such that he would use all of his learning, all of his training, all of his God-given skill to get to know God and help others to get to know him.
- Many of us know far more about lots of subjects and disciplines than we know about God, because, as St. Jerome heard said to him, we care much more about other subjects than we do about Sacred Scripture. When I was in college, I recognized that I knew far more about biochemistry, biology, history and current events than I knew about the faith. Many nurses today can name every bone, nerve, vessel and ligament in the human body but can’t name the 73 books of Scripture. Many construction workers know everything about building houses to skyscrapers but they haven’t learned how to build the house of the life on the rock of faith. Many young people can recite by heart the lyrics for hundreds of songs from their favorite singers, but they don’t know the words for even one short psalm. Let’s face it, many of us know far more about the lives of today’s celebrities than we do about Jesus and the saints. Our treasure is in other places. While few of us are Ciceronians, many of us are less Christian than Red Sox fans. Many of us don’t know Jesus Christ because we have never poured our hearts and heads into Sacred Scripture. Today’s feast day of St. Jerome is an important occasion for us to have a similar conversion. Jesus is knocking on our heads and hearts to get to know him better, but we need to welcome him like Mary — and say, “let it be done to me according to your word!” — instead of refuse him welcome like the Samaritans.
- When we do begin to get to know Jesus better through Sacred Scripture, then we are so much strengthened in life. In today’s first reading, we encounter the enormous sufferings of Job, which led him to curse the very day he was born and long for death. Many of his family members had died. Pestilence had destroyed most of his farm. He was in misery and he didn’t know how to handle it. Sometimes we will experience similar desolation, but if we know Christ through Sacred Scripture, we will have the light of hope in the midst of darkness. We begin to recognize what Jesus himself experienced on the Cross, that he felt abandoned, but that he wasn’t. We know the wisdom of the Psalms, particularly when it describes prayer to the Lord in the midst of pain. We see what the prophets and apostles needed to endure and how nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. The better we know Sacred Scripture the much better we know the real Christ, the suffering Christ, the one who calls us to pick up our Cross and follow him, and how that Cross turns into an eternal throne of glory. Without this knowledge of Sacred Scripture, we not only fail to know Christ, but fail to know ourselves.
- Today is an occasion for all of us to make a commitment to get to know Sacred Scripture much better and through this to get to know Christ better and in him who is perfect God and perfect man, ourselves much better. I remember a time of conversion in my own life. I was at Green Airport in Providence a few years back and after I was putting on my shoes and belt after passing through security, I looked up and saw that there was another priest just passing through security. I waited for him and introduced myself. He extended his hand and said his name was Bob and he was a priest from the Diocese of Cleveland. I asked him when his flight was, and it turned out to be 15 minutes after mine. So I invited him to have some lunch together so we could get to know each other. As we got to the cashier at Sbarro’s, she asked whether it would be one bill or two. I said one. Fr. Bob interjected, saying, “No, please. Let me pay for myself.” “Bob,” I replied, “priests shouldn’t split bills, but should always generously pick up for someone else. When I’m in Cleveland, you can treat me, but here, I’d like to treat you.” He replied, “But the Book of Sirach says we should go dutch.” I looked at him, quizzically and with a smile, saying, “What?” He said, “Sirach says we should go dutch.” I paused, searching for a comeback. “Well, Jesus said ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’ and the Last Supper and Calvary wasn’t a dutch treat, so I’m paying!,” as I gave the cashier my credit card and he laughed. When we got to the table, I asked him, “Does Sirach really say we should go dutch?” He pulled out of his carry on bag a well-worn Bible, turned quickly to Sirach and showed me Sirach 42: “Of these things be not ashamed, lest you sin through human respect: … Of sharing the expenses of a business or a journey” (Sir 42:1-3). I asked how he knew it and he told me that every year since his ordination 24 years before, he had kept a commitment he made prior to his ordination to read the entirety of Sacred Scripture every year. He told me that after 24 times, you start to notice little details like how not to be ashamed to share expenses. I asked him how long it takes him each day in order to be able to read all of Sacred Scripture in a year. He said anywhere from 10-14 minutes, depending upon the particular passages. From that time forward, I made a commitment to do the same. He used a Bible. I use a cool program on my smart phone called Logos, but the point is that it doesn’t take long. If we dedicated 15 minutes a day to reading Sacred Scripture we’d finish in a year. If we dedicated a half hour, we’d finish in half a year. Just think about it: if Catholics gave up watching Wheel of Fortune and just dedicated that half-hour to reading Sacred Scripture, they’d be able to read the entire Bible twice in a year. The question is whether people’s hearts are more in Pat Sajak and Vanna White than in Ezekiel, and Sirach, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Jesus. Will you make the commitment today to get to know Sacred Scripture better so that you may get to know Christ better?
- Once we make that commitment to receive God’s word, to treasure it, enflesh it and share it, it starts to have an enormous impact in our life and in the lives of those around us. We become living commentaries of the word. If people want to know what Sacred Scripture says about how we should treat the poor, or forgive those who have wronged us, all they need to do is point to us like we can point to the saints. There’s a a beautiful scene late in the life of St. Jerome. He had worked for many years as the secretary of Pope St. Damasus in Rome, but after Damasus’ death, he went to Bethlehem, where he worked translating the Bible, writing books defending the faith, and serving as a spiritual director to many. After Rome was sacked in 410 by Alaric, many of the formerly rich Roman Christian women fled the city and came as beggars to Bethlehem. He wrote at the time, “Who would have believed that the daughters of that mighty city would one day be wandering as servants and slaves of Egypt and Africa? That Bethlehem would daily receive noble Romans, distinguished ladies brought up in wealth and now reduced to beggary?” He was working on his translation of the Book of Ezekiel at the time, but he knew, because of his knowledge of Christ, that he was called to a different type of translation of Scripture. He said, “I cannot help them all, but I grieve and weep with them, and, completely given up to the duties that charity imposes on me, I have put aside my commentary on Ezekiel and almost all study. For today we must translate the words of the Scriptures into deeds, and instead of speaking saintly words, we must act on them!” We’re all called to become similar translators of Sacred Scripture!
- The greatest means we have to get to know Christ in Sacred Scripture is not by our own private study, as important as that is. It’s through the liturgy, in which together with the entire Church, we ponder the whole of Sacred Scripture as it relates to Christ. Like he did for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he come to us here to make our hearts burn as he starts with the Old Testament of Moses and the Prophets and relates them all to him. He does even more, as he takes what Paul and John and the other inspired New Testament writers have given us and applies them to him and to us as well, so that we might become those commentaries of the word. And then finally, he gives the word his own flesh and allows us to enter into a holy communion with him, so that we may know Christ not just through words but intimately, in this consummation of the nuptial union of Christ and his bride the Church. St. Jerome once said that at Mass we need to care not only for every particle of the Sacred Host but every word that comes from God’s mouth. That’s what we strive to do here. Today through the intercession of St. Jerome, we ask for the grace that at the end of our life we won’t be called Ciceronian or anything else but Christians who knew and treasured Jesus Christ so that we may be able to know him and love him forever with St. Jerome, St. Bernadette and all those who got to know him in this same way!
The readings for today’s Mass were:
jb 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23
Job spoke out and said:Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth,
like babes that have never seen the light?
Wherefore did the knees receive me?
or why did I suck at the breasts?
For then I should have lain down and been tranquil;
had I slept, I should then have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth
who built where now there are ruins
Or with princes who had gold
and filled their houses with silver.
There the wicked cease from troubling,
there the weary are at rest.
Why is light given to the toilers,
and life to the bitter in spirit?
They wait for death and it comes not;
they search for it rather than for hidden treasures,
Rejoice in it exultingly,
and are glad when they reach the grave:
Those whose path is hidden from them,
and whom God has hemmed in!
ps 88:2-3, 4-5, 6, 7-8
O LORD, my God, by day I cry out;
at night I clamor in your presence.
Let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my call for help.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
For my soul is surfeited with troubles
and my life draws near to the nether world.
I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;
I am a man without strength.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no longer
and who are cut off from your care.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,
into the dark abyss.
Upon me your wrath lies heavy,
and with all your billows you overwhelm me.
R. Let my prayer come before you, Lord.
he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,
and he sent messengers ahead of him.
On the way they entered a Samaritan village
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem.
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
“Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?”
Jesus turned and rebuked them,
and they journeyed to another village.