By Fr. George Welzbacher
December 30, 2007
With New Year's Day just hours away the customary moment for making New Year's resolutions has arrived. The problem with many resolutions is that they're way too vague. "l will try to be better" is a wish, not a resolution. And at the other extreme a good many resolutions that might come to mind would be too individualized, too custom-designed for the special needs and failings of particular personalities, to be addressed here. But let me suggest one resolution that, while sharply focused, would be appropriate for nearly everyone: namely the resolution in the coming year to devote a specified number of minutes each day to a prayerful reading of the Scriptures, and most particularly to a prayerful reading of the Gospels, with the intent to translate into action what speaks to us there. (For the visually impaired "Talking Books," recorded readings of the Scriptures, are available.)
The greatest Scripture scholar of the early Church, St. Jerome, was fond of saying: "Not to know the Scriptures is not to know Christ." and in one of his recent Wednesday homilies, in the context of praising St. Jerome, Pope Benedict declared that knowledge of the Scriptures is, if anything, even more important today than it was in the Patristic age, given the anti-Christian forces that in the present age are growing in ferocity with every passing year. In the face of which we would be well advised to "take up the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. " (Ephesians 6:12)
* * * * *Pope Benedict on St. Jerome
Reported in the National Catholic Register,
November 25, 2007
During his general audience on November 14 Pope Benedict XVI offered some further reflections on St. Jerome, following up on his previous general audience. St. Jerome's integration of the enduring values of classical civilization with the wisdom of God's inspired word made him one of the great figures of the emerging Christian culture of late antiquity.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today we will continue our presentation on St. Jerome. As we said last Wednesday, he devoted his life to studying the Bible, so much so that one of my predecessors, Pope Benedict XV, acknowledged him as an "eminent doctor in the interpretation of sacred Scripture."
Jerome emphasized the joy and the importance of familiarizing oneself with the texts of the Bible: "Don't you feel that here on earth you are already living in the Kingdom of Heaven, as you dwell on these texts and meditate upon them, not knowing or seeking anything else?" (see Epistola 53, 10).
Truly, conversing with God and with His word is, in a sense, an experience of the presence of heaven, in other words, of God's presence. Drawing close to the Bible-especially the New Testament- is essential for the believer because "ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ." This axiom of Jerome, which the Second Vatican Council cited in the constitution entitled Dei Verbum (see 25), is rightly famous.
Truly "enamored" with the Word of God, Jerome wondered: "How could we live without knowledge of Scripture, through which we learn how to know Christ, Who is the life of the believer? (see Epistola 30,7). Hence the Bible, the instrument "through which God speaks to the faithful every day" (see Epistola 133,13) becomes the catalyst and the source of Christian life in every situation and for every person.
To read Scripture is to converse with God: "If you are praying," he wrote to a young noblewoman from Rome, "you are speaking with the Groom. If you are reading, it is He who is speaking to you" (see Epistola 22,25).
Studying and meditating upon Scripture makes men wise and gives them peace (see In Eph., prologue). Of course, in order to penetrate the word of God more deeply, you need to apply yourself constantly and progressively to the task. This is what Jerome recommended to a priest named Nepotian: "Read sacred Scripture regularly and never lay down this holy book. Learn from it what you ought to teach",(see Epistola 52,7).
To a Roman matron named Laeta, he gave the following advice for the Christian education of her daughter: "Make sure that she studies some passages from Scripture every day .... Follow prayer with reading and reading with prayer .... Instead of loving jewelry and silk garments, may she rather love the divine books" (Epistola 107, 9, 12).
Through meditation and knowledge of Scripture, a person "maintains balance of the soul" (see Ad Eph., prologue). Only through a deep spirit of prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit are we able to begin to understand the Bible: "In order to interpret sacred Scripture, we always need the Holy Spirit's help" (see In Mich. 1, 1, 10, 15).
Thus, all of Jerome's life was pervaded with a passionate love for Scripture which he always sought to awaken within the faithful. "Love sacred Scripture and wisdom shall love you," he recommended to one of his spiritual daughters, "Love it tenderly, and it will protect you. Honor it and you shall receive its caresses. May it mean as much to you as your necklaces and your earrings" (see Epistola 130,20). He also said the following: "Love knowledge of Scripture and you shall not love the vices of the flesh" (see Epistola 125,II).
For Jerome, a fundamental criterion in any method of interpreting Scripture was to he in tune with the magisterium of the Church. We cannot read Scripture on our own. We will encounter too many closed doors and we can easily slip into error.
The Bible was written by the people of God for the people of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is only when we are in communion with the people of God that we can truly enter "with our whole being" into the heart of the truth that God himself wishes to tell us. For Jerome, any authentic interpretation of the Bible always had to be in harmonious agreement with the faith of the Catholic Church. This is not some requirement imposed from the outside. The book itself is the voice of the pilgrim people of God and it is only in the faith of these people that we find, in a sense, the right frame of mind to understand sacred Scripture. For this reason, Jerome made the following warning: "Remain firmly attached to the traditional doctrine that has been taught to you, so that you can preach based on a healthy doctrine and refute those who contradict it" (see Epistola 52,7).
In particular, he concluded, given that Jesus Christ founded his Church upon Peter, every Christian has to be in communion "with the chair of St. Peter. I know that on this rock the Church is built" (see Epistola 15,2). Consequently, he declared in no uncertain terms: "I am with whoever is united to the chair of St. Peter" (see Epistola 16).
Jerome did not overlook those aspects where ethics are involved. He often recalled that it is our duty to live life in accordance with God's word and that only by living it will we find the means of understanding it....
Our love for Christ, nourished with study and meditation, helps us overcome any difficulty: "Let us love Jesus Christ and always seek union with him. Then, all that is difficult will seem easy" (see Epistola 22, 40).
Jerome, whom Prosper of Aquitaine described as "a model of good conduct and a master of humanity" (see Carmen de Ingratis, 57) also left us a rich and multifaceted teachi ng on Christian asceticism. He reminds us that a courageous commitment to the road towards perfection requires a constant alertness, frequent mortification (accompanied by moderation and prudence if needed), assiduous intellectual work or manual labor in order to avoid idleness (see Epp.125,II and 130, 15), and above all else obedience to God. "Nothing-pleases God as much much as obedience ... which is the most excellent and outstanding virtue" (Homilia de oboedientia:CCL 78, 552) .....
Finally, we cannot remain silent on Jerome's contribution to Christian education (see Epp. 107 and 128). He set as a goal the formation of "a soul that has to become the Lord's temple" (see Epistola 107, 4), "a most precious gem" in the eyes of God (see Epistola 107, 13). With deep insight, he advised that a soul protect itself from evil and from sinful occasions and avoid any compromising or wasteful friendships (see Epistola 107, 4 and 8-9; see also Epistola 128, 3-4). Above all, he urges parents to create an environment of peace and joy around their children, to support them in their studies and in their work through praise and emulation, to encourage them in overcoming difficulties, to nurture good habits in them and to protect them from bad ones because-here he quotes a phrase that Publilius Syrus had heard as a school-boy- "you will barely succeed in correcting those things that you are gradually getting used to" (see Epistola 107, 8).
Parents are the primary educators of their children-their first teachers in life. Addressing himself to the mother of a girl and then turning to the father, Jerome clearly warns them--as if to express a fundamental need of every human being who faces life-"May she find in you her teacher, and may her inexperienced childhood took at you with wonder. May she never see-neither in you nor in her father-any attitude that, if imitated, could lead her into sin. Remember that-you can educate her more with your example than with your words" (see Epistola 107, 9) .....
Moreover, one aspect that was somewhat overlooked in ancient times but that Jerome considered vital was the promotion of higher education for women, whom he recognizes as having the right to a full education-human, academic, religious, and professional. Indeed, we can see today how the education of the person in his or her entirety--education in one's responsibilities before God and before man-is truly the basis that is needed for progress, peace, reconciliation and overcoming violence.
Education before God and before man: Sacred Scripture offers us the guidance of education and, therefore, of true humanism.
We cannot conclude these rapid notes on this great Father of the Church without mentioning the very effective contribution he made in safeguarding the positive and important elements of ancient Hebrew, Greek and Roman cultures in Christian civilization as it emerged.
Jerome recognized and assimilated the artistic values and the rich feelings and harmonic images that were present in the classics, which educate the heart and imagination in noble feelings.
Above all, he put God's word at the center of his life and his work, a word that shows man the pathways of life and reveals to him the secrets of holiness.
Today, we cannot help but feel deeply grateful to Jerome for all this.