Thursday, May 5, 2011

St. Jerome and the Lion


He was sitting—so runs the story—with some of his [28] monks in the cell of Bethlehem, when a lion entered the open door. The brethren all jumped up in a fright, and tumbled as fast as they could through the window, while Jerome stayed quietly in his chair and waited. The lion looked at him doubtfully for a moment, then limped towards him, holding up a paw. This Jerome took, and examined carefully. At first he could see nothing, the soft pad was so badly swollen; but at length he detected a thorn, near one of the nails, and managed to pull it out with a pair of pinchers. He next boiled some water, in which he soaked some dried herbs, and bathed the sore place till the swelling began to go down, when he tied a linen rag round it, so that the dirt might not get in and inflame the wound afresh. As soon as he had finished, and the look of pain had disappeared from the lion's eyes, Jerome expected him to depart, but instead the huge beast stretched himself out comfortably on the floor. Jerome pointed to the door; the lion wagged his tail happily, and took no notice. This happened several times, till at last Jerome gave up the struggle and went to bed, the lion on the floor sleeping beside him. Next morning Jerome said to this visitor: "You seem to intend to live for ever in my cell"—the lion wagged his tail again—"but learn that no one here spends his time in idleness. If you stay here, you must be ready to work"—the tail wagged a second time—"and you will therefore accompany my donkey daily to the forest to defend her from robbers and savage wolves, when she brings back the firewood needful for the monastery."


[Illustration]

THE LION REFUSES TO DEPART.

So for many months the lion and the donkey might have been seen setting off side by side every morning to the forest, and the lion lay down and watched while an old man heaped up the donkey's panniers from the stack of wood which he had gathered in readiness. The work took some time, but when the panniers could hold [31] no more the donkey gave itself a shake, and the lion jumped up, waiting till she began to move. The journey back to the monastery was much slower than the one to the forest, as the donkey had to be very careful not to make a false step. If she had stumbled and fallen, she would have found it very difficult, with her loaded panniers, to get on her feet again, and even the lion could not have helped her.

But one morning a terrible thing happened. The sun was very hot, and when the lion lay down as usual he fell sound asleep, and never heard two men creep up behind the old man and the donkey and tie a cloth over the mouths of both man and beast, so that they could not utter a sound. Then the robbers drove them away, wood and all, to the caravan which was waiting at a little distance.

At last the lion awoke, and gave a great yawn, and stretched himself. He lay still for a few minutes, till suddenly he noticed that the shafts of light that fell through the trees, struck the ground in a different way from usual.

"It must be later than I thought," he said; "they never look like that till the sun is going to set. Has the donkey been waiting for me all this time? Poor thing, how tired she must be! But why didn't she wake me?" and he rose to his feet and turned towards the old man's hut, but no donkey was there.

"She must have gone home," he said to himself again; "but then—where is the old man?" and bending his head, he examined the soil carefully.

"These are human footprints, I am sure they are," he exclaimed in his own language; "more than one man has been here. And here are the donkey's. She was stolen while I was asleep, and I, who was set to guard her, have been unfaithful to my trust! How shall I face the holy father who cured my wound?"

[32] However, there was no use waiting or trying to track the lost donkey; the thieves had got too long a start, and with bent head and heavy heart the lion followed the road home, and entered, as he had done once before, the cell of his master.

"Wherefore are you here, and where is the donkey?" asked Jerome sternly. In answer, the lion bowed himself to the earth, with his tail between his legs, awaiting his sentence.

"I had faith in you, and you have put me to shame," continued Jerome, "and as it is quite plain that you have eaten the donkey, you must take her place, and for the future the panniers will be put upon your back, and it is you who will fetch the wood from the forest."

And the lion, when he heard, wagged his tail in relief, for he had been very much afraid that his master would send him away altogether.

Now it was at the end of the summer that the donkey had been stolen, and as soon as the spring came round the caravan went past again, the camels laden with swords and silks from Damascus for the cities of Egypt. The lion was standing behind a group of trees, while another old man was piling up the panniers with wood, when the crackling of twigs caused him to turn round, and a little way off he beheld the long train of ugly, swaying creatures, with the donkey walking at their head. At the sight of his friend he gave a bound forward, which knocked over the old man, and sent the wood flying in all directions, and so frightened the camel-drivers that they ran away to hide themselves. As to the rest of the caravan he drove them before him into the monastery, keeping his eye carefully on the riders; and if anyone's hand so much as moved towards his side where his short sword was buckled, the lion had only to growl and to show his teeth for the hand quickly to move away again.

[33] In this manner they proceeded till the monastery was reached, and Jerome who was seated in his cell, unfolding the copy of a new book, beheld their arrival with astonishment. What were all these people doing here, and why was the lion with them? And surely that was—yes, he was certain of it—his old donkey, which he imagined was dead months ago. So he hastened out of his cell to the court-yard, where the merchants, who by this time had dismounted from their camels, fell on their knees before him.

"O holy father, if you are the lord of this lion, bid him spare our lives, and we will confess our sin," they cried. "It was we who stole the donkey, while her guardian, the lion, was sleeping; and behold, gladly will we restore her to you, if we may go our way."

"It is well, go in peace," said Jerome, and the merchants needed no second bidding.

Joyful indeed was the donkey to be at home again; and the next day she got up early and trotted off to the forest by the side of the lion, throwing up her head and sniffing the air as she went, from very delight at being freed from captivity. And the heart of Jerome rejoiced likewise that, after all, his trust in the lion had not been in vain.

That is the story of the lion of St. Jerome.

3 comments:

  1. What is the source for this story?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very touching story and it has many lesson to learn.God is really good for sending a person to comfort us and save us from sins. Catholic faith

    ReplyDelete