Rilke’s poem “The Archaic Torso of Apollo” ends with the famous lines, “[…] for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.”
This speaks to the way that we are admonished and summoned by an encounter with beauty and order.
On this feast of St. Jerome, I was re-reading Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter on the Anniversary of the Death of St. Jerome which was published last year.
The introduction begins with this section:
On 30 September 420, Saint Jerome died in Bethlehem, in the community that he had founded near the grotto of the Nativity. He thus entrusted himself to the Lord whom he had always sought and known in the Scriptures, the same Lord whom, as a Judge, he had already encountered in a feverish dream, possibly during the Lenten season of 375. That dream proved to be a decisive turning point in his life, an occasion of conversion and change in outlook. He saw himself dragged before the Judge. As he himself recalled: “Questioned about my state, I responded that I was a Christian. But the Judge retorted: ‘You lie! You are a Ciceronian, not a Christian’”. Jerome had loved from his youth the limpid beauty of the Latin classics, whereas the writings of the Bible had initially struck him as uncouth and ungrammatical, too harsh for his refined literary taste.
For Jerome, this dream he had was a “You must change your life” moment.
We are not always open to undergoing such confrontation and accordingly being provoked to dramatic transformation.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves (and before God), we can each hear a judgment that we are not yet who we are meant to be.
‘You lie! You are a [fill in the blank], not a Christian.’
Part of the “enduring relevance” of St. Jerome of which Pope Francis speaks consists in St. Jerome’s example of conversion to ever greater devotion through the humble realization that we must change our lives.