“Where is your heart?” - Memorial of St. Jerome

Homily for Wednesday Week 26 and September 30th, Memorial of St. Jerome

by Fr. Tommy Lane

Where is your heart? Nehemiah, in the first reading (Neh 2:1-8; Year 1), did not have his heart where his body was. He was serving in the palace of the Persian King. However his heart was not there but in Jerusalem. Since his heart was not where he was, he transferred from the king’s palace. We wouldn’t fault Nehemiah for fleeing from the king’s palace. In fact our respect for him increases because Scripture makes it clear it was what God wanted.

In the Gospel Jesus called people but their hearts were not with him (Luke 9:57-62). They made excuses why they had to delay following Jesus but Jesus did not accept their reasons. The demands Jesus makes of them, “Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60) and again, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62) are surely meant to teach us that following Jesus demands total dedication. Detachment is necessary if we are to follow Jesus. We cannot follow Jesus if our heart is elsewhere. Where is your heart? If our heart is not yet totally with Jesus, if we are not yet detached enough to follow Jesus with all our heart, we can purify our motives and desires. We do this in prayer, receiving the Lord in the sacraments, doing penance and self-denial.

St. Jerome’s heart was with the Lord (Memorial September 30th). Because his heart was with the Lord he was a theologian and scholar who bore much fruit for the Lord and is now the patron saint of Scripture study. He showed his heart was with the Lord and practiced detachment when he left home, his parents, and his sister, and went to the East so that he could study Scripture. If you find Greek difficult you can take comfort from what St. Jerome wrote about his study of Hebrew in Syria,

What a toil it was! How difficult I found it! How often I was on the point of giving it up in despair, and yet in my eagerness to learn took it up again!…Yet I thank God for the fruit I won from that bitter seed. (Letter to Rusticus 125.12)

The Lord was preparing Jerome for a mammoth task ahead. Previous Latin translations of the Old Testament had been made from the Septuagint. But Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was novel in translating the Old Testament from the Hebrew, not from the Septuagint. Jerome certainly needed a heart given totally to the Lord to cope with what came his way. His first translation of the Psalms was not from the Hebrew but from the Greek and it was either lost or stolen. But Providence was at work. Later when translating most of the Old Testament he made the translation from the Hebrew. However his new translation was greeted with horror at first and only gradually accepted and it took four centuries before it was used in almost all of the Roman Catholic Church. Truly only someone whose heart was with the Lord could accomplish what he did.

Nehemiah’s heart was not in the king’s palace so he went to Jerusalem. Jesus challenged men in the Gospel because their hearts were not with him. St. Jerome became the patron saint of Scripture study because his heart was with the Lord. Where is your heart?

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2009

This homily was delivered in Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.