St Gerasimus

Abbot (entered heaven in 475)

Dear Jerry,

Don’t be so childish.  If God gave you strong passions, it’s for a reason.  Instead of complaining about them, and about all the trouble they cause you, start training them.  Offer them to God when you receive Holy Communion, ask for the grace to channel them into the activity that will be productive for the Kingdom.  You are no longer a child, my volatile nephew; start growing up. Perhaps an anecdote about today’s saint will provide some inspiration.

Gerasimus was a devout Christian from Asia Minor (now Turkey), who traveled to Palestine in search of someone who could guide him to holiness.  He temporarily fell into the Eutychian heresy, but St Euthymius extracted him from his erroneous state and he went off to learn the art of prayer from the famous Egyptian hermits.  Later he returned to the area of Jerusalem, where he eventually attracted many disciples of his own. Finally, he had to construct a monastery for them near the city of Jericho.

In Latin, St Jerome’s name is often misspelled “Geronimus,” which explains why the following anecdote about St Gerasimus has often been misattributed to St Jerome.  In any case, one day while the holy abbot was near the River Jordan, a lion in great pain approached him, hobbling on three paws. The fourth had been pierced by an immense thorn, which Gerasimus serenely removed.  Then he bathed the injured paw in the river water and bound it. From the on, so the story goes, the lion never left him. It became tamer than any pet. Eventually, the monks started using it as a kind of sheepdog for their donkey.  They used the donkey to carry water from the river to the monastery, and when they let the animal out to pasture, they would send the lion to tend it and bring it back. One day some Arab traders stole the donkey, and the lion returned alone, looking somewhat disconsolate.  Everyone thought the lion had eaten the poor pack animal, and so Gerasimus assigned it a penance: from then on it would have to carry the water for the monks. Later on, the Arab thief returned, passing by with three camels and the old donkey. The lion saw them, chased off the man, took the donkey’s bridle in its mouth, and led all four pack animals triumphantly back to the monastery.  This only increased the monks’ fondness for the beast. Eventually, however, Gerasimus died, and the lion was never the same. It lay down upon the abbot’s grave, moaning and roaring, until it too passed away.

I am wont to believe such stories (if Jesus calmed the sea, why can’t his disciples’ tame lions?), but they aren’t dogmas of faith, so you don’t have to.  But even if you take it as a fable, it has an eloquent lesson. The lion is the king of beasts, and is often considered a symbol for the passions that rage in the human heart (anger, lust, greed, etc.), the very ones you are complaining about.  Gerasimus tamed the lion not by destroying it, but by winning it over through charity, through love, and after then, the power of the beast was put to productive use for the good of his community. You too, through cultivating your love of God and the Church, can train your passions, turning them into gushing fountains of apostolic energy.  It won’t happen overnight, but the example of saint after saint (all of whom had plenty of passions, just like you) proves that with faith and the help of God’s grace, it can happen.

Your faithful uncle, Eddy

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