February 4, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Jerome Emiliani

John F. FinkNot many people are familiar with the life of St. Jerome Emiliani, and observance of his feast on Feb. 8 is optional.

He lived in the city-state of Venice from 1481 to 1537. Originally a soldier, he was captured and chained in a dungeon. With plenty of time to think, he changed his life when he got out and became a priest.

When plague and famine ravaged northern Italy, Jerome began to care for the sick and poor, eventually founding three orphanages, a shelter for penitent prostitutes, and a hospital. Then he founded the Order of Clerks Regular of Somascha, which cared for orphans and the poor. He died from a disease he caught while tending the sick. He is the patron saint of orphans and abandoned children.

I include his wisdom because of some advice that he gave to the members of his order who were experiencing extreme hardships. Although addressed specifically to them, it might be helpful to others.

First, he urged them to persevere in their love for Christ and in their faithful observance of God’s laws. Our goal, he said, is God, the source of all good, and we are to place our trust in him and in no one else.

He said that it was Christ who allowed his brothers in the order to experience poverty, distress, abandonment, weariness and universal scorn. “God alone knows the reasons for all this,” he said, “yet we can recognize three causes.”

First, he said, “Our blessed Lord is telling you that he desires to include you among his beloved sons, provided that you remain steadfast in his ways, for this is the way he treats his friends and makes them holy.” (A few decades later, though, another saint, Teresa of Avila, was to complain, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder that you have so few.”)

Jerome’s second reason: God was asking his brothers to grow continually in their confidence in him alone and not in others. He said that God does not work in those who refuse to place all their confidence and hope in him. For those who possess a deep faith and hope, God imparts the fullness of his love and does great things for them.

Jerome’s third reason was that God was testing his brothers like gold in the furnace. “The dross is consumed by the fire, but the pure gold remains and its value increases.” That’s how God works with his good servants, he said, with those who put their hope in him and remain unshaken in times of distress.

God raises them up and, in return for the things they have given up out of love of him, repays them a hundredfold in this life and with eternal life hereafter. This, Jerome said, is the way God has dealt with all the saints.

Therefore, he said, if his brothers would remain constant in faith in the face of trial, the Lord would give them peace and rest for a time in this world, and forever in the next. †

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