When I did some investigation on St. Jerome, whose feast is today, I laughed at myself over that train of thought. Most well-known as the biblical scholar who revised the Latin Bible (generally known as the Vulgate), this Doctor of the Church was also incredibly hard on himself when he failed. Butler’s Lives of the Saints says of Jerome:
He was, as someone has said, no admirer of moderation whether in virtue or against evil. He was swift to anger, but also swift to feel remorse, even more severe on his own shortcomings than on those of others. A pope is said to have remarked, on seeing a picture of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, "You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you."
I suppose we young adults are in good company when we, too, are hard on ourselves for missing the mark.
It’s really no wonder Catholic young adults have such difficulty accepting those times we fall flat on our faces. Fresh out of our academic careers, whether high school or college, we’re used to very high expectations on our performance. We tend to gauge our self-worth on quantifiable “goals”: our GPAs, extracurricular involvement, “likes” on Facebook, retweets on Twitter, number of job interviews, etc. Every time we miss the mark we’ve set for ourselves, it somehow translates to utter personal failure.
This, of course, is foolishness. It’s all well and good to be involved and occupy our time with things. St. Jerome himself said, “Be ever engaged, so that whenever the devil calls he may find you occupied.” It’s another thing, though, to obsess over being occupied and, thus, increasing our chances at “being successful”. We know it in our heads, but fail to grasp it in our hearts, often at great detriment to our interior lives.
All of these “real world” struggles have a profound effect on our spiritual well-being. As soon as we begin to think poorly of ourselves for underperforming in worldly things, we become overly critical of our spiritual shortcomings. We keep failing at (insert your habitual sin(s) of choice) and beat ourselves up every time. This can be even worse for the soul than the particular sin itself; we begin to believe that we’re not worthy of being fixed.
So what is one to do? I’m no spiritual guru, but I can share a few things that continue to help me overcome this recurring sense of unworthiness.
1. Daily Prayer- It goes without saying that daily prayer is essential. Even if you start with “Hey God, it’s me again. I’m sorry I keep failing at this. Please help”, you’ll reap the benefits immediately. Like with any other relationship, frequent dialogue is of primary importance.
2. Mass- The Eucharist is literally the greatest physical thing in the world: Christ in the flesh. We have the opportunity to receive Him every single day; take advantage of it. And while you’re at it, take a leap of faith and try out…
3. Reconciliation- Yes, the oft-dreaded Confessional. Admittedly, I absolutely hate going—but I sure love leaving! While it’s hard to do, it’s like anything else in life: the greatest reward comes from the greatest sacrifice. Take a leap of faith if you’ve been away for a while. The “spiritual car wash” really is one of the greatest gifts God offers us.
4. Spiritual Direction- Regular dialogue with a spiritual guide provides an objective view of our journey. It takes a level of openness and vulnerability, but having someone to walk with gives us much-needed encouragement and accountability.
5. Patience- St. Francis de Sales said it best: “Have patience with all things; but, first of all, with yourself.”
We’re humans, and fairly young ones at that. The expectation we place on ourselves to be perfect is so unreachable because we’re inherently imperfect. We’re constantly developing, growing, falling down and getting back up again. It’s only God who can make us perfect; we just keep getting in His way.
The next time you go all St. Jerome on yourself, drop that stone and look instead to the One who is Perfection itself. He’ll help you back up on your feet every time.
Ad Infinitam Dei Gloriam
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center and a civil engineer in the Baltimore Area.