Today is the feast day of Aelred of Rievaulx, who was a contemporary of Thomas Becket. He was a twelfth century English Cistercian monk, who became abbot of the monastery of Rievaulx in the diocese of York in 1147, and remained spiritual father of that community until his death in 1163. When, as a diocese we adopted a programme of renewal for priests some years ago called Ministry to Priest, an American Trappist, Vincent Dwyer gave us a conference during which he recommended reading Aelred’s thesis ‘On Spiritual Friendship.”
In it, Aelred provides us with an in-depth spirituality of Christian friendship. Many today believe that what was originally written for monks of the 12th Century could help us come to a christian understanding of how to relate to each other today.
The spiritual friendship he speaks of is a relationship which helps us grow in love: love of each other and love of God. In fact, for Aelred friendship is a sacrament of God’s love. He maintains that through the experience of spiritual friendship we come to experience something of God’s love. He refers to this friendship as a very holy sort of charity. As one write says: “Aelred’s book “On Spiritual Friendship” is unique because he skilfully synthesised his contemporary understanding of friendship with the ancient tradition of Cicero, the theological depth of Augustine, and his own psychological insight into human nature which was considerable.”
Here is the opening prayer for his feast today.
O God, who endowed Saint Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx,
with the gift of fostering Christian friendship
and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness,
grant to your people, we pray,
that same spirit of fraternal affection,
so that in loving one another
we may know the love of Christ
and rejoice in the eternal possession
of your supreme goodness.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, for ever and ever.