St. Jerome: Overcoming Anger

· Doctor of the Church,Priest

Early Life

Known mainly for his updating the Latin translation of the Bible, St. Jerome was also known for struggling with anger. As we will see in his story, pride is often the root of sinful anger.

Jerome grew up in city, Stridon, in modern day Croatia. However, the exact location of the city is unknown because years later the city was literally wiped off the face of the earth when the Goths invaded.

At the age of twelve, Jerome and his friend Bonosus were sent to Rome to continue their studies. And so began Jerome's learning which would continue throughout his life and help prepare him for his future work. At the same time, he joined a bad crowd and picked up habits that he only gave up when he was baptized by Pope Liberius at the age of nineteen.

To keep himself from falling back into bad habits, Bonosus and he left for Gaul where they remained for several years before returning home with plans to become hermits.

To say that his family was disappointed upon his return, would be an understatement. Although Christians, they had supported him for twelve years, and from their point-of-view, he had done nothing with his education. They had hoped he would become a high government official and bring a good income along with prominence. Then Jerome told them of his plans to become and hermit, and they turned him out.

A Life Changing Dream

Indeed, in time, Jerome would live as a hermit and eventually found his way to Antioch in modern day Syria. There he was frequently ill. At one point, he fainted and had a vision that he appeared before the Lord in order be judged. He was prostrate and could not lift his head in the view of such glory. The Lord said that Jerome was not a Christian, but a  follower of Cicero. Where his treasure was, was where his heart was. In  response, Jerome swore that he would not touch profane books. The vision ended after he made his vow.

A Hermit's Life

Shaken to his core, this proved to be a turning point for Jerome. Clearly, he had taken a worldly pride in his learning, and that pride had moved him away from the Lord. After this conversion, he put his great learning and mind to the things of God. Soon he left for the Syrian desert where he engaged in prayer, fasting, and learning Hebrew. Eventually, he would be commissioned by Pope Damasus to provide a better Latin translation of parts of the Bible. 

Eventually, over a period of thirty years working with the original languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, Jerome would update or provide fresh translations into Latin of the entire Bible in order to produce a more accurate Latin text.  Most of this work was done in the Holy Land near Bethlehem where he lived as a semi-recluse. However, he kept up frequent correspondence including many letters back-and-forth between St. Augustine and he.

Dealing with Anger

However, Jerome could be quite difficult to get along with and made many enemies along the way. His anger comes across in his frequent correspondence with friends and foes alike. He was known for name calling and biting words which expressed his anger and lack of charity. Jerome could be bitter, hold grudges, and try his friends' patience with his anger. Part of the issue was his pride. He certainly was a learned man. With all of his learning, he would not suffer fools and was quick to point out in an angry tone what had irritated him.

The important thing is that Jerome repented of his anger. He knew that he needed to overcome sinful anger. He felt remorse for it, asked forgiveness for it, and did penance for it. Apparently, at one point, he carried a stone around with him that he used to strike himself on the chest in penance for having expressed anger. Jerome knew that he suffered from this vice, and he knew that it hurt other people. Jerome prayed to overcome his anger, and he never stopped fighting against it.

We all struggle with some temptation of the heart, and we know that we need to overcome it. Let us remember the example of St. Jerome who did not stop striving for holiness.

We might not need a rock to help us, but we certainly know that we need prayer. Through prayer, we can continue to make ourselves available to receive the grace that the Lord wants to give us through the sacraments. It is that grace which will help us to change to become more like the person God wants us to be and to overcome anger, or whatever sin with which we struggle.

Jerome's example shows us that he did not give up and through the heroic virtue he displayed he was able to fight the fight and run the race until the end.

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