St Jerome

A Homily for Mass of St Jerome: Carmarthen 2015

Commentator, Translator, Historian. We have a great deal to thank God for in the life of St Jerome. Of these gifts, it is perhaps that of translation that intrigues me the most as I stand before you at the beginning of a day on preaching, that most elusive, idiosyncratic and yet grace-filled discipline in which the people we are and are becoming is utilised, please God, for his purposes in enabling the Spirit of Truth to speak in our own days.

Translation is a perilous task. Words in one language may have no real equivalent in another. The Translator burrows away at context, to seek the background to the meaning of a word, a phrase, a sentence, to find an accurate fit. It requires an understanding of the history of language, of context. It is never merely a question of conveying meaning, but style, context, the ebb and flow of text, the ambiguities and sometimes contradictions inherent in a piece of prose. This was the world Jerome knew, and it was an essential one in a known world where conflicting cultures and philosophical backgrounds, ways of living and temperament, were at play. The fact that we have heard the gospel proclaimed this morning in the glorious language of Welsh is a magnificent illustration of this, especially as your preacher doesn’t speak a word of it. Or understand it.  But he loves the sound of it. Even at Twickenham.

The world of translation has much to teach us if we would become more effective preachers of the word. We never merely narrate text, or event, but story, context, background, culture, and we seek for parallels and similarities between one distinctive world and another. And we seek, by various means, to re-locate and embed that narrative  within our time and place, whether that be rural West Wales or urban Black Country sprawl. We seek to illustrate both specific detail and over-arching metanarrative in such a way that both are recognisable and memorable. If nothing else, today will teach us all the great weight of expectation which we place on preaching, and that the advent of a phenomenal range of technological possibility cannot remove the truth that preaching is a converting ordinance like no other, and we should strive to be the best, most thoughtful, contemplative and subversive preachers we can be.

May the prayers and example of St Jerome inspire us as we open our hearts and minds to the lives we lead and the place of preaching within that life, that we may stand in the flow of grace from the life giving Spirit, and that we may truly know and have the mind of Christ.

Preached at a Training Day for the Diocese of St David’s, Feast of St Jerome 2015

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