Yes, go ahead. Ask yourself the question.
And answer, “Movie quotes” — because you know that’s the real answer.
That’s how I’d answer the question, too.
Years ago at SEEK13, Fr. Mike Schmitz asked the audience this question during his talk. While I outwardly put on a face that said, “I’m one of the few who does read the Bible,” inwardly, I was recalling my bus ride to the conference just the day before, when I was quoting lines from “The Sandlot” before the characters on the screen said the lines themselves.
It’s not that knowing the movie lines was bad — however, I couldn’t remember the last time I’ve spouted off a verse from the Bible as if it was rolling right off my tongue.
Luckily, here in September we celebrate the feasts of some amazing models of virtue who can inspire us to get serious about Scripture. We celebrate the life of a Christian giant, the one to whom we owe everything for making Scripture accessible to us today: St. Jerome.
St. Jerome had a similar experience as the one I had at SEEK years ago, only instead of Fr. Mike Schmitz challenging him, it was “the tribunal of Christ.” According to Alban Butler’s Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Principal Saints, while fasting in the desert to grow in virtue, Jerome had a dream of his judgment after death. The judge at the tribunal asked him what he did for a living, and Jerome answered that he was a Christian. The judge replied, “Thou liest, thou art a Ciceronian: for the works of that author possess thy heart.”
What’s a Ciceronian? “One who follows Cicero, especially his writings,” to be exact. Cicero, the great Roman philosopher and politician, penned many works that had tremendous influence on the Latin language, law, and philosophy as a whole (so he was actually somebody worth studying). And yet, Christ always calls His followers to greater things, to a deeper understanding of Him. The Lord challenged St. Jerome to make His works be the ones that possess his heart.
And so he did. He spent the next few years with the most renowned Hebrew scholars of his day to learn the language. He threw off his study of other authors, focusing solely on Scripture and becoming masterfully skilled with the original and translated versions of the Bible. His close friend, Pope St. Damasus, later had two tasks for him: first, to translate the New Testament from Greek into Latin so that there was one authoritative version; and second, to translate from the original Hebrew all but nine books of the Old Testament into Latin. For such a rigorous scholar, this was not a problem for him.
So what does St. Jerome’s life say to us? That we should all throw off our careers and become Scripture scholars? That we should stop watching all movies and TV shows that aren’t EWTN or stop reading all books that don’t have their author as the Holy Spirit Himself?
Maybe not. But I think there are some key insights we can glean from St. Jerome’s life and his absolute obsession with the Word of God:
1. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Obviously, St. Jerome’s dream of the tribunal made this point so abundantly clear to him that he coined this phrase. And so it must be that clear to us: If we don’t know Scripture, we don’t know Jesus. We don’t have to be scholars, but we should be able to converse with Scripture verses better than we can reference movie quotes. Start reading the Bible — even if it’s only 5-10 minutes a day or even 5-10 minutes a week!
While there are plenty of resources and tips out there to assist you in your reading of Scripture, I would highly recommend one tip above all others: Read in groups. Turning to a friend and sharing how it is impacting you, listening to how it is impacting them and growing in deeper knowledge of Scripture together is truly transforming. Don’t give up your personal Scripture reading time, but don’t only read it alone. Get out there, get some friends together or join a group, and start talking. Don’t go it alone.
2. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”
Did I say that one already? Oh yeah, I did — because it’s that darn important. Think like St. Jerome and Pope St. Damasus did:
Why translate the Bible into Latin? Because Latin is the language everyone spoke.
Why translate the Bible into the language everyone spoke? So that everyone could understand it!
Don’t we want people to understand the Bible too? Don’t we want the words of Scripture to become something alive in everyone? Don’t we want the words of Scripture to become for everyone no longer words on a page but a Word cast across the times and ages, transcending and embracing all of existence?
If we truly believe “the Word of God is living and active…piercing to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12), then we need to evangelize through Scripture. As I mentioned above, opening up Scripture and wrestling with it in a group is powerful. Facilitate that power then. Don’t just be the one who goes to be formed; be the one who facilitates others to be formed.
3. The language of the heart.
Just like St. Jerome was so passionate about the Scriptures that he translated them into the language of the day, we, along with evangelizers of all ages, have the difficult task of translating the gospel and the truths of the faith into the language of our contemporaries.
I’m not speaking of an actual language, like Spanish or Thai. I’m speaking of the language of the heart. Any time we attempt to study something to better share our faith with others, we risk becoming an expert rather than an evangelizer. It’s not about the transfer of information that opens up others to encounters with Christ; it’s most often the stories, the experiences, the images, the analogies, the laughter, the meals that go along with the truth that really make the difference. The truth still has to be there — but something else has to be there: you.
So as we celebrate the life of St. Jerome and his entrance into eternity this month, let’s let his burning love for Scripture inspire us to take a further step in our walk with Christ: to know Him and share Him through His word.