“Charity may be a very short word, but with its tremendous meaning of pure love, it sums up man’s entire relation to God and to his neighbor.”
Aelred of Rievaulx lived a millennium ago, but his writings and teachings seem to address our modern concerns and susceptibilities. Born in Hexham, Northumbria in 1110, he expertly administered Rievaulx, a vast Yorkshire abbey in Northern England. Aelred loved his flock and was loved in return, “As I was walking around the cloisters,” he said, “all the brothers were sitting together. And in the whole throng I could not find one whom I did not love and by whom I was not loved.”
As a writer of many books, including The Mirror of Charity and On Spiritual Friendship, Aelred shared his reflections on how spiritual friendship leads us to Christ. He says: “It is no small consolation in this life to have someone who can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love. Someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow. To the dear breast of friendship, amidst the many troubles of the world, you can safely retire. A person, who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity can lead into the depths of your heart. A person who, though absent in body, is yet present in spirit, where heart to heart you can talk to him, where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you. Thus from that holy love with which you embrace your friend, you rise to that love by which you embrace Christ.”
A sufferer of kidney stones and arthritis, St. Aelred of Rievaulx spent his last four years confined to a cell attached to the abbey. Monks visited him daily to seek his counsel. He died on January 12, 1167. Named the patron saint of kidney stone sufferers, we celebrate his feast day on January 12th.