Today we honour the memory of Saint Jerome, the Church’s first scripture scholar. This year we mark the 1600th anniversary of his death and today’s memorial also brings to an end The Year of the God who Speaks. It was Jerome who translated the Scriptures into Latin, known as the Vulgate and it’s still used today by serious scripture scholars. After spending his early years in Rome as a lawyer and a priest, Jerome spent the last 34 years of his life as a semi-recluse in the Holy Land where he translated many important documents which are still in use today. Saint Jerome is honoured as one of the four great Latin Fathers of the Church. His remains are preserved in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.
Many of us may cringe when we hear those words of Our Lord to “Leave the dead to bury to their dead”, because they sound pretty extreme. Now, we know Our Lord doesn’t expect us to boycott the funerals of those we know and love. He often exaggerates his answers in order to make a point. Just as he doesn’t really want us to chop off our hands or gouge out our eyes when we are tempted to sin, so he doesn’t really want us to abandon all our responsibilities in the name of discipleship. What Our Lord does want us to do is take seriously his call to follow him. This is why he uses extreme language, to get our attention and prompt us to do a little more self-examination.
As we progress in the religious life, self-examination can often suffer. Once we get settled into a comfortable routine with our lives it gets all too easy to tell ourselves that we are too busy to sit down and reflect. We can get so busy doing things and seeing people and going places that we forget sometimes why we entered the religious life in the first place. We may even create our own little world within a world. Each decision we make adds up, until we begin to think that Our Lord really isn’t so very important in our lives. The apostolate takes over. Now of course, we would never admit this so bluntly, but our actions often speak more honestly than our words. This is why self-examination is so important. And this period of isolation is a good opportunity to reflect on why we came here and what our true purpose is.
I suppose like doctors and nurses, priests and religious don’t always follow the advice we give to other people. It’s easy to preach, advise and direct, but we need to listen to our own advice. Our Lord’s words today should provoke us all to ask a few questions about how we continue to respond to God’s call for us. Age and experience inform us that it’s always best to start small. If we set too lofty a goal for ourselves, we inevitably end up disappointed and discouraged when we fail. But if we take small steps and do our best to be faithful, then we will become more dedicated followers of Christ who walks with us every step of the way.