Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred died in 1167. He was a monk, abbot, and prominent figure in the Church in England. His contributions to spirituality and monasticism are many. Among his most well-known and transformative works was a piece called Spiritual Friendship. Aelred taught that friendship is a concrete expression of the universal love we are called to share in Christ. This was a revolutionary concept in its time. As a Cistercian monk, Aelred was part of a religious community that did not encourage “particular friendships” among the brethren. As abbot, he taught that friendship was a holy gift and expression of the love of Christ made tangible. He drew on the scriptural example of the friendship shared between our Lord and “the beloved disciple” that is described in the gospel of John. He wrote:
There are qualities which characterize a friend: Loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. Right intention seeks for nothing other than God and the natural good. Discretion brings understanding of what is done on a friend’s behalf, and ability to know when to correct faults. Patience enables one to be justly rebuked, or to bear adversity on another’s behalf. Loyalty guards and protects friendship, in good or bitter times.”
This describes those deep, life-sustaining relationships that help to form and, in a sense, create us. Think for a moment about those who desire what is best for you – people who are willing to ‘rebuke’ you and speak the love to you in truth, and are patient in their acceptance of you when you might not feel or be very acceptable! Reflect on those who have been ‘there’ for you, and those who have helped you to be the person you are today. What a gift…
We might do well, on this Feast of Aelred, to reflect on the friendships that bless us and are reflections of the divine, universal love of Christ and then give thanks to God today for the holy gift of friendship!