Saturday, October 4, 2008

Saints Who Could Be Real Jerks Sometimes

Over the last week, we've had the feast days of St. Jerome and St. Vincent de Paul. I'm a big fan of these guys because both had very, very bad tempers (like myself) and yet they still made it to heaven, something I'm much more hopeful about thanks to their examples.

Vincent de Paul is one of the more visually recognizable saints ever. It's the nose, I think. Pretty much all his plans for his priesthood were derailed early on when he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. He was freed 2 years later thanks to the Holy Spirit's conversion of his owner. Eventually, he became the spiritual director for a well-to-do family in France and started doing peasant missions on their estate. This work eventually grew and spread rapidly from the peasant poor to galley slaves, who would be St.Vincent's primary occupation until the end of his life. He was also an implacable foe of Jansenism.

Anyways, it's maybe difficult for us to imagine that this apparently gentle figure who is always depicted holding small children or providing food to the poor could have been of such poor temperament. The homilist I heard actually quoted St. Vincent as calling himself "callous" and "repulsive." This is a good lesson in humility. Despite our base personalities, those harsher urges should be suppressed in favor of God's will for us.

Our next saint actually fled to the desert to get away from his sinful tendencies. This is St. Jerome, who is one of the four Great Doctors of the West and the greatest Scripture scholar in history, despite what you hear from modern folks who are just too proud to admit that some guy 1700 years ago might have done it better. In his youth. Jerome was prone to somewhat wild living, though we aren't really sure how wild. Saints are pretty rough on themselves. After bouts of partying, though, he would be filled with contrition and go explore catacombs to bring to mind the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell). You'll see Jerome often pictured at work, his desk decorated with a skull. Same principle.

After fleeing to the desert to get away from all this, Jerome realized that acesticism alone wasn't getting the job done. He would later write:

In the remotest part of a wild and stony desert, burnt up with the heat of the scorching sun so that it frightens even the monks that inhabit it, I seemed to myself to be in the midst of the delights and crowds of Rome. In this exile and prison to which for the fear of hell I had voluntarily condemned myself, I many times imagined myself witnessing the dancing of the Roman maidens as if I had been in the midst of them: In my cold body and in my parched-up flesh, which seemed dead before its death, passion was able to live. Alone with this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was.

Like I've said before, Satan really doesn't like it when he gets one-upped by mortification and flights from the world. Where mortification didn't work, Jerome used study:

When my soul was on fire with wicked thoughts as a last resort, I became a pupil to a monk who had been a Jew, in order to learn the Hebrew alphabet. . . I turned to this language of hissing and broken-winded words. What labor it cost me, what difficulties I went through, how often I despaired and abandoned it and began again to learn, both I, who felt the burden, and they who lived with me, can bear witness. I thank our Lord that I now gather such sweet fruit from the bitter sowing of those studies . . .

Imagine if every porn addict out there threw themselves into study when they were seized with temptation. We would have a population of PhDs. All this study, of course, set the stage for Jerome's translation of the Scriptures into Latin. This edition, known as the Vulgate, is one of the greatest accomplishments in history. In the midst of all this, Jerome still had time to combat a shmoe named Helvidius, who denied the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Mother, Origenists, Pelagians, and heretics who impugned celibacy and the veneration of saints and their relics.

I barely have time to balance my checkbook.

His writings are pointed, blunt, and just plain mad. He probably spends 1/4 of his Dialogue with the Luciferians coming up with lofty ways of calling his opponents idiots. Consider this comment about the above-mentioned Helvidius:

I was requested by certain of the brethren not long ago to reply to a pamphlet written by one Helvidius. I have deferred doing so, not because it is a difficult matter to maintain the truth and refute an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning, but because I was afraid my reply might make him appear worth defeating.

Yeah. Jerome could be pretty cranky. The good news is that he stands as living proof that heaven is available even to those of us who occasionally have a shortfall of charity in discussions like those in which he was involved.

I love this picture, by the way. And it gives us some Carravagio for tomas.

Sts. Jerome and Vincent de Paul, pray for us that we be moderate in our temperament.

1 comment:

tomas said...

Thanks for the nod.

A little October 10th tribute for my man, perhaps?