St. Jerome was known to lash out at people and spew angry comments, but it was his repentance that saved him.
Anger is a feeling, and in itself it is not sinful. It is even possible that anger can spur us on to do something heroic and stand up for those who are being persecuted.
However, it too easy to let anger consume us, and then our words no longer reflect our Christian faith.
St. Jerome knew this too well, as he was widely known for his excessive anger. He wasn’t proud of his anger and often regretted his words immediately after he said them.
People’s actions could easily set him off, and his debates with other scholars were often not pretty.
Why then was St. Jerome canonized a saint, if he was such an angry person, widely known for his hurtful words?
Pope Sixtus V walked past a painting of St. Jerome holding a rock, and commented, “You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you.”
Sixtus was referring to a practice of St. Jerome of beating himself with a stone whenever he was tempted, or in reparation for his sins. He knew he wasn’t perfect and would frequently fast, pray, and cry out to God for mercy.
Finding myself abandoned, as it were, to the power of this enemy, I threw myself in spirit at the feet of Jesus, watering them with my tears, and I tamed my flesh by fasting whole weeks. I am not ashamed to disclose my temptations, but I grieve that I am not now what I then was. I often joined whole nights to the days, crying, sighing, and beating my breast till the desired calm returned. I feared the very cell in which I lived, because it was witness to the foul suggestions of my enemy: and being angry and armed with severity against myself, I went alone into the most secret parts of the wilderness, and if I discovered any where a deep valley or a craggy rock, that was the place of my prayer, there I threw this miserable sack of my body.
In addition to these physical torments he inflicted upon himself, he also devoted himself to the study of Hebrew, to quell the many temptations that would assail him.
When my soul was on fire with bad thoughts, that I might subdue my flesh, I became a scholar to a monk who had been a Jew, to learn of him the Hebrew alphabet.
St. Jerome would struggle with anger the rest of his life, but every time he fell, he would cry out to God and did all he could to improve his speech.
We can learn from St. Jerome’s example and examine our own lives, especially if we are prone to anger. Do we repent of this anger that hurts others? Or are we prideful, not willing to admit we made a mistake?
What separates us from the saints is not our mistakes, but our ability to ask forgiveness from God and others. If we do that, we have much more in common with the saints that we might expect.