Today we honour the memory of Saint Jerome, the Church’s first scripture scholar. It was Jerome who translated the Bible into Latin – known as the Vulgate and is still used today by serious scripture scholars. After spending his early years in Rome as a lawyer and a priest, Jerome spent the last 34 years of his life as a semi-recluse in the Holy Land where he translated many important documents which are still in use today. He died around the year 419 and his remains are preserved in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome.
This year the English have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. And one of the many dramatic highlights shown on the BBC was a performance in which a group of well-known British actors and others, including Prince Charles, performed a skit based on Shakespeare’s famous line from Hamlet: “To be, or not to be: that is the question.” In the skit, the actors argued over how to say the line. One read it as “To be or not to be.” Another said, “To be or not to be.” Another stressed the word “that,” and yet another stressed the word “question.” The skit was funny, but it makes an interesting point: the meaning of words can change depending on how we hear them.
When Our Lord says, “Woe to you” to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, how do you hear him (Luke 10:13)? It’s easy to imagine angry condemnation. But look at the context. Rather than expressing anger, Our Lord is more likely speaking out of unrequited love. He has performed numerous miracles, preached about his kingdom, and demonstrated God’s mercy and love, all to little avail. So now he is admonishing them, not wishing them woe, but warning them of woe to come if they don’t accept his message.
Sometimes we prejudge people in the same way that we prejudge their words or actions. We may have heard that someone doesn’t go to Mass regularly, that the person holds certain suspect views, or maybe they have an offensive sticker on their car. But we can’t really know what people are like unless we’ve talked to them. And if somehow we do learn that they are far from God, then that should make us more compassionate toward them, not more condemning. We should never make our faith an ‘us versus them’ affair.
We know that left to ourselves, we can never love anyone as Jesus loves them. But that’s fine because we have received the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit who lives in the heart of God, the same Spirit who enabled the Apostles to preach, teach, and heal. So let us ask the Holy Spirit to give us a more compassionate heart, so that we can be patient with others, just as God is patient with us.