Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reflections of a Priest-Diplomat - The Feast of St. Jerome

Msgr. Jose Bettencourt, priest of the Ottawa Archdiocese serving at the Vatican, presides at a family baptism while home in Canada this past summer.

This is the trunk of Msgr. Jose Bettencourt a priest of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, who labours as a diplomat in the service of the Holy See (the Secretariate of State) at the Vatican.

His reflections on his living out of the priesthood may be found on the Archdiocesan web site in English and French, part of this year's celebration of the Year of the Priest (

There is an international gathering of priests for a retreat at Ars, France under the leadership of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn O.P., archbishop of Vienna, Austria; the theme of the spiritual exercises is: "The joy of being a priest, consecrated for the salvation of the world".

Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to the retreatants, suggesting that one may see in a priest "the man of the future"!

"The priest", says the Holy Father in his Message, "is called to serve human beings and to give them life in God. ... He is a man of the divine Word and of all things holy and, today more than ever, he must be a man of joy and hope. To those who cannot conceive that God is pure Love, he will affirm that life is worthy to be lived and that Christ gives it its full meaning because He loves all humankind".

The pope then turns to address priests who have to serve a number of parishes and who "commit themselves unreservedly to preserving sacramental life in their various communities. The Church's recognition for you all is immense", he says. "Do not lose heart but continue to pray and to make others pray that many young people may accept the call of Christ, Who always wishes to see the number of His apostles increase".

The Holy Father also invites priests to consider "the extreme diversity of the ministries" they perform "in the service of the Church", and "the large number of Masses you celebrate or will celebrate, each time making Christ truly present at the altar. Think of the numerous absolutions you have given and will give, freeing sinners from their burdens. Thus you may perceive the infinite fruitfulness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Your hands and lips become, for a single instant, the hands and lips of God".

"This thought", His Holiness added, "should bring you to ensure harmonious relations among the clergy so as to form the priestly community as St. Peter wanted, and so build the body of Christ and consolidate you in love".

"The priest is the man of the future. ... What he does in this world is part of the order of things directed towards the final Goal. Mass is the only point of union between the means and the Goal because it enables us to contemplate, under the humble appearance of the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Him Whom we adore in eternity".

"Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests in the heart of the Church", the Pope concluded. "You are the living witnesses of God's power at work in the weakness of human beings, consecrated for the salvation of the world, chosen by Christ Himself to be, thanks to Him, salt of the earth and light of the world".

Some might be puzzled by the expression, "The priest is the man of the future." Whatever does that mean? Aother way of putting might be, "The priest is the man of the eschaton."

As minister of the eschatological sacrament, the priest participates in a unique way in the anticipation and culmination of all things at the end of time.

* * * * * *

The Patron Saint of Scripture Scholars

Domenico Ghirlandaio, St. Jerome in His Study, 1480. A handsome Renaissance work, that, while filled with the era's distinct classical style, nonetheless retains in this instance the rich iconographic detail of earlier medieval works (though his lion appears to have gone missing in this instance). Formerly on the ponte or roodscreen of the church of the Ognissanti, Florence, it was balanced on the other side by a fresco of St. Augustine. In symbolism, the scissors represent biblical exegesis

Today, I would like to pay tribute to those who initiated me into the world of Scriptural scholarship, modern era Jeromes who interpreted the Word of God in a way that made it come alive for me: the late Fathers David Michael Stanley and Roderick A.F. Mackenzie, S.J., who taught me in the novitiate and encouraged me throughout my later Jesuit formation and from the era of the Toronto School of Theology, Father Joseph Plevnik, S.J. (Regis College) and several other professors who mentored me in my studies: His Eminence Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic from St. Augustine's Seminary, my Doctervater, who guided my doctoral research on St. Mark; the late Terence J. Forestell, C.S.B. (St. Michael's University College); the late Cyril J. Blackman and the late Vernon Fawcett (Emmanuel College); Robert Lennox and the late J. Charles Hay (Knox College); Richard Longenecker (Wycliffe College) and John C. Hurd (Trinity College).

Many a spiritual writer has been fascinated by the fact that Jerome has been canonized, given his irascibility and curmudgeonliness; as someone put it, "I like Jerome because he is proof that even grumpy old men can become saints and get into heaven. Apparently, there is room for all temperaments in God's kingdom. [...] In Rome he had a benefactor who later became his best friend, a woman named Paula. She followed him to Bethlehem, and financed his monastery and three convents. When she died, crusty, cantankerous old Jerome was said to be inconsolable."

St. Jerome's contemporary and friend, St. Augustine of Hippo (himself a strong and pugnacious personality), put it this way when he learned of Jerome's passing, "The Scorpion is dead."

It is true that Jerome had a very bad temper and could use a vitriolic pen, but his love for God and his Son Jesus Christ was extraordinarily intense; anyone who taught error was an enemy of God and truth, and St. Jerome went after him or her with his mighty and sometimes sarcastic pen.

He was above all a Scripture scholar, translating most of the Old Testament from the Hebrew. He also wrote commentaries which are a great source of scriptural inspiration for us today. He was an avid student, a thorough scholar, a prodigious letter-writer and a consultant to monk, bishop and pope. St. Augustine said of him, "What Jerome is ignorant of, no mortal has ever known."

St. Jerome is particularly important for having made a translation of the Bible which came to be called the Vulgate. It is not the most critical edition of the Bible, but its acceptance by the Church was fortunate.

As a modern scholar says, "No man before Jerome or among his contemporaries and very few men for many centuries afterwards were so well qualified to do the work." The Council of Trent called for a new and corrected edition of the Vulgate, and declared it the authentic text to be used in the Church.

In order to be able to do such work, Jerome prepared himself well. He was a master of Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Chaldaic. He began his studies at his birthplace, Stridon in Dalmatia (in the former Yugoslavia). After his preliminary education he went to Rome, the center of learning at that time, and thence to Trier, Germany, where the scholar was very much in evidence. He spent several years in each place, always trying to find the very best teachers.

After these preparatory studies he traveled extensively in Palestine, marking each spot of Christ's life with an outpouring of devotion. Mystic that he was, he spent five years in the desert of Chalcis so that he might give himself up to prayer, penance and study. Finally he settled in Bethlehem, where he lived in the cave believed to have been the birthplace of Christ. On September 30 in the year 420, Jerome died in Bethlehem. The remains of his body now lie buried in the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.

1 comment:

  1. What a neat write-up on St. Jerome - not your typical saint! My children go to a Catholic school named after him and celebrated "St. Jerome's Day" yesterday with Mass, free hot dogs from the Knights of Columbus, and afternoon initiations and festivities in the school gym. It's always a special day for the kids.
    Vermilion, AB