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St. Jerome on the battering-ram of affection

Joachim Patinier - St. Jerome
Joachim Patinier, Saint Jerome

The day will come later when you shall return in triumph to your true country, when, crowned as a man of might, you shall walk the streets of the heavenly Jerusalem. Then you shall share with Paul the franchise of that city, and ask the same privilege for your parents. Yes, and for me also you shall intercede, who urged you on to victory. I know full well the fetters which you will say impede you. My breast is not of iron nor my heart of stone. I was not born from a rock or suckled by Hyrcanian tigers. I too have passed through all this. Your widowed sister clings to you to-day with loving arms; the house-slaves, in whose company you grew to manhood, cry ‘To what master are you leaving us?’ Your old nurse and her husband, who have the next claim to your affection after your own father, exclaim, ‘Wait for a few months till we die and then give us burial.’ Perhaps your foster mother with sagging breasts and wrinkled face may remind you of your old lullaby and sing it once again. Your tutors even, if they wish, may say with Virgil:
‘On you the whole house resting leans.’
The love of Christ and the fear of hell easily break such bonds as these.
But, you will say, the Scripture bids us to obey our parents. Nay, whosoever loves his parents more than Christ loses his own soul. The enemy takes up his sword to slay me: shall I think of my mother’s tears? Shall I desert from my army because of my father, to whom in Christ’s cause I owe no rites of burial, although in Christ’s cause I owe them to all men? Peter with his craven counsel was an offence to Our Lord before His passion. Paul’s answer to his brother s, who would have stayed his journey to Jerusalem, was this: ‘What mean ye, to weep and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ The battering-ram of affection which shakes faith must be beaten back by the wall of the Gospel: ‘My mother and my brethren are these, whosoever do the will of my father which is in heaven.’ If men believe in Christ, they should cheer me on as I go to fight in His name. If they do not believe, ‘let the dead bury their dead.’

St. Jerome, Letter to Heliodorus on the Ascetic Life, A.D. 374 (Open in Verbum)

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