A Saint for the Abandoned and Marginalized

Today (February 8) is the feast day of a lesser known saint.  St. Jerome Emiliani, from Venice, lived in the early 1500s.  He is a pioneer of social justice and the patron of abandoned people and orphans. St. Jerome had begun life as a careless youth with no regard for God.  However, after being imprisoned he underwent a profound conversion, lost his chains, and founded the Order of Somaschans.  He then went on to dedicate his life to helping orphans, the infirmed, and prostitutes.  He worked to create safe havens for marginalized people.

His time period was noted for lack of morality, famine, and plague.  An anonymous biographer described the condition of the day:

…therefore, as everyone knows about and remembers with sorrow, in 1528 a famine so big occurred in Italy and Europe that in towns, cities and villages thousands of people died of starvation. There was such a shortage of grain that little of it was to be found, and that at intolerably high prices. The poor people were compelled by hunger to eat dogs and donkeys, then grass, but not from their gardens or cultivated fields. On the account of the bad times, there were no gardens; therefore, they ate wild grasses, and these without oil and salt, because they did not have any. But, what do I say, grass? In many places stale hay and straw from the thatched roofs were finely chopped and attempted to eat (somascans.org).

The poor people literally flooded the streets of Venice in search of food and help.  St. Jerome’s life was spent helping them in their plight. He actually contracted the plague himself and died in 1537.

Last night I happened to watch an episode of a new show on National Geographic called Doomsday Preppers.   One guy actually spoke about learning to eat grass along the highways and beneath underpasses of the city. Part of his emergency kit was a bottle of salad dressing for his weeds!  A criticism was that such grasses would become scarce in the time of a disaster.  Interestingly this way of surviving has been tried in history as we can see from the above passage!  There is truly nothing new under the sun!

I actually had not known of St. Jerome of Emiliani prior to today but am intrigued by reading information on the Somascans.  Interestingly they note keeping a vigil over the tongue and heart so as to not sin.  A suggestion at the way to do such a thing is to live in the presence of God:

Life in the Presence of God…there should be no moment in which with our interior sight we do not see Him present as a witness and a judge of our deeds, words and thoughts. Nothing is, in fact, more effective than this commendable memory of the divine presence if we want to avoid evil and reach perfection. (Obtained from “Suggestions for an interior life and spiritual progress” at somascans.org).

My take on this is remembering reading from other Saints such as St. Teresa of Avila who contemplated the face of Jesus and would mystically envision Our Lord’s face saddened by her sins.  Having the constant remembrance of Jesus watching and gazing into His face helps one to grow in the spiritual life.  The Practice of the Presence of God, on the teachings of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, a 17th Century Carmelite monk, is another great spiritual classic that witnesses to how one can pray without ceasing and live in the presence of God.  It is a short read and one of my favorites.  In fact, I think that I might crack the little book open for another round!

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