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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Friday of the fourth week in ordinary time

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

If you are like me, you probably do not know much about the saint the church honors today. St. Jerome Emiliani died on this day, February 8, almost 500 years ago. He was born 56 years earlier, in 1486, in Venice. After his father died, he ran away to join the military when he was 15. Seven years later he was in charge of a post when it was overrun by a conquering army. He was imprisoned and put in chains.

Up until that time, Jerome had not thought much of God. That all changed in the darkness of his prison cell. Slowly the chains of his mind and heart slipped away as he gave himself more and more to the God who called him from the darkness. When an opportunity arose for him to escape, he took it. Instead of abandoning God now that he was free, he increased his devotion by returning to the city that he was defending and attending to the needs of the poor, especially the orphans. Plague and poverty were the enemies now, and Jerome entered the fray with all of his strength. He opened up a home for orphans with his own money and began to feed and educate them. The desperate times had forced many women into prostitution. Jerome saw their need and opened another home for them to find a new way of life. He traveled to neighboring cities and, with help from generous donors, did the same.

Exposed to the plague by his attention to the poor of the cities, he became sick himself. He offered his work and his life to God through the Virgin Mary, the archangel Raphael, and the Holy Spirit. After recovering, his life attracted other men to join his work. He studied theology and became a priest and a founder of the Clerks Regular, later called the Somaschi Fathers, named after the town in northern Italy where his work began. Jerome Emiliani is recognized today as the patron saint of orphans.

It is interesting to note the parallels between the saint’s life and the Gospel reading from Mark. Mark relates the drama of Herod, Herodias, and St. John the Baptist. King Herod was attracted to John, whom he had chained up in prison. He would listen to him even though John condemned Herod’s way of life. Herodias, Herod’s unlawful wife, induced her daughter to demand John’s head after she pleased her father with a dance. Herod was too weak to follow what his heart told him was the truth. He could not face the embarrassment of looking weak in front of his wife, friends, and officials.

St. Jerome Emiliani and St. John the Baptist found themselves imprisoned and in chains but were freer than Herod ever was. Circumstances in life change constantly. Only God’s love is constant.

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.