The Cross: A Way of Life
Saint Aelred, the English 12th century abbot of Rievaulx, has long been a dear friend. “Our order”, he wrote, “is the Cross of Christ.” In saying this, Saint Aelred uses the word order to signify, not an institutional organization, but a way of life. For Saint Aelred, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very pattern of monastic life.
The Spacious Peace of Charity
Plagued all his life by bad health, Aelred administered his abbey of more than six hundred monks from the infirmary, often gathering the brethren around his bed for familiar spiritual chats. Saint Aelred used to say:
It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities. All whether weak or strong should find in Rievaulx a haunt of peace, and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.
Christ, the Dearest Friend of All
Saint Aelred saw friendship not as a threat to community but as the cement of community. For Aelred, every true friendship opens onto the sweet love of Christ, the dearest friend of all. “God is friendship,” he said, “and he who dwells in friendship, dwells in God and God in him.”
The Bruised Reed
One cannot read what Holy Father Benedict says in the Rule concerning the abbot without thinking of Saint Aelred: “Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken” (RB 64). Saint Aelred’s Pastoral Prayer reveals a man conscious of his own infirmity and full of confidence in the mercy of Christ:
You know, Lord, my heart. You know that my desire is to devote wholly to their service whatever you have given your servant; to spend it completely for them. You know also that I am ready to be myself wholly spent, poured out, for them. May all I perceive and all I utter, my leisure and my occupation, my thoughts and my actions, my prosperity and my adversity, my life and my death, my health and my sickness, yes all that I am be spent on them, be poured out for them, for whom you yourself did not disdain to be poured out. Grant me, Lord, through your grace that is beyond our understanding, grant that I may bear their infirmities with patience, that I may have loving compassion for them, that I may come to their aid effectively. Taught by your Spirit may I learn to comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak and raise the fallen. May I be myself one with them in their weaknesses, one with them when they burn at causes of offense, one in all things with them, and all things to all of them, so that I may gain them all. And since you have given them this blind leader, this unlearned teacher, this ignorant guide, if not for my sake then for theirs teach him whom you have made to be their teacher, lead him whom you have bidden to lead them, rule him who is their ruler.
His Last Words
Saint Aelred’s biographer and friend, Walter Daniel, describes the abbot’s death. Saint Aelred’s last words were, “Festinate, for Crist luve.” Walter Daniel explains: “He spoke the Lord’s name in English, since he found it easier to utter, and in some way sweeter to hear in the language of his birth.” “Festinate, for Crist luve.” Hasten, for Christ’s love! I want to make Saint Aelred’s words at the hour of his death my own as I approach the adorable mysteries of Christ’s Body and Blood. Holy Father Saint Aelred, obtain for us today a threefold grace: willingly to go to Christ our Physician, tenderly to love Christ our Friend, and fervently to adore Christ our God.