18th February

Jerome And The lion

Cows and bears will eat together, and their calves and cubs will lie down in peace. Lions will eat straw as cattle do. Isaiah 11: 7

Saint Jerome was saying evening prayer with his brothers in the monastery at Bethlehem when a large lion limped in to the cloisters with an injured paw. Jerome took the injured paw in his hand and found that wounds from a cut had festered. The brothers bathed and tended these.

So much so that the lion made himself at home! This caused considerable discussion among the brothers. Jerome’s conclusion was: ‘God has sent us this lion to show that He wants to look after us. So instead of worrying about having a lion here, let us give it something useful to do’. They came up with a good idea: each day their donkey would take the lion with him to pasture, and the lion would guard the donkey from any who might steal or harm it.

This arrangement worked well until one day the lion fell asleep and some travelling merchants stole the donkey. After this the lion took to roaring up and down, and at nights would hang around disconsolately, staying outside the monastery. Some brothers assumed the lion had eaten the donkey, and that he should be banished. Jerome, however, thought that Christians should not judge others, even lions, without evidence. So they continued to give the lion care and food, and they gave him a new job: to go every day with a harness to fetch branches from the wood. The lion did this faithfully, but he still longed for the donkey, and instinctively looked out for him. One day, miles away, he saw the traders returning with the donkey leading the way. With roars and bounds he raced to them; the men fled in terror, and the lion brought the donkey and drove the laden camels back to the monastery.

Soon the shamefaced traders arrived to ask for their goods and camels, begged forgiveness, and offered the brothers expensive gifts. Jerome refused the gifts, and gently explained that the best way they could show their appreciation was to always thank God for His provisions, and never to take what belongs to others. This they promised to do.

Lord, give me gentleness towards all creatures
integrity in my dealings
and wisdom to handle unsettling situations.