Cry out with joy to God, all the earth: serve the Lord with gladness.
Year: B(II). Psalm week: 4. Liturgical Colour: Green.
Friendship: the love that dare not speak its name
Today the Office of Readings contains a passage from St Aelred of Rievaulx on friendship.
Once upon a time, there was friendship. Once upon a time, society accepted that the love of friends could be the single most important thing in a person’s life, and they did more than just accept, they celebrated the fact. Throughout history, discourses and sermons have been written in praise of friendship. When Alfred Tennyson’s friend Arthur Henry Hallam died tragically young in 1833, he spent the next seventeen years writing the great poem “In Memoriam” as a memorial to his friend; and Hallam is a first name used among the Tennyson family to this day. Looking further back, we can see Damon and Pythias, Pylades and Orestes, David and Jonathan...
Perhaps the change was the fault of Freud and Oscar Wilde; and then again, perhaps not. But today no love is accepted as valid that is not in some way sexual, and even if we set out to reject the sex-obsessed outlook of today’s society, we think in those terms despite ourselves. When St Aelred writes of “this most loving youth”, we all say to ourselves “oh yes” in a knowing way, sure that we have guessed the smutty truth.
What a waste! What a wicked denial and perversion of love! God has made friendship – did not Christ have his own beloved disciple? – and how dare we corrupt it and deny it! Of course, we must not despise sex: sex is holy, divinely ordained as a way of love and procreation – but it is not the only love. Friendship is not “mere” friendship, not a second-best; still less is it a repressed substitute for erotic love. It is a love in its own right, powerful, holy, overwhelming. A world with Eros but without friendship is a world full of isolated, self-obsessed couples, of love unshared – a sad thing indeed. And we are heading that way.
The denial of friendship is an evil thing and evil in its effects. When my pulse beats faster at the sight of my friend, when his presence feels like a bolt of electricity – is this really sex in disguise? Am I to run away – which would be a tragedy – in order to preserve my chastity, or am I to try to overcome my revulsion and make a pass – which would be worse? Modern society seems to give us nothing but this harsh choice between a cold heart and a hot body. Who knows how many of the impressionable young are led into ultimately unendurable vices precisely because they cannot face what seems the only available alternative? And when, as is inevitable, they have destroyed friendship by turning it into something it is not, what choice do we give them but to repeat the error, each time more desperately? As if one could see the stars by diving ever deeper into the mud!
Let us accept friendship. Let us accept it as a true and passionate gift of God. Let us accept it in others without reading anything else into it – “repressed” or not. Let us rejoice if it is given to us, be glad if it is given to others. Jonathan loved David not because of what he could get out of him, but because he was David: let us celebrate this motiveless love of the Other, an echo of the pure love of Heaven. We ought to love everyone like that: but one should at least start somewhere.
And if, like Aelred, we have made the mistake of seeking a physical consummation of a love that does not require it, then let us, like St Aelred, not recoil from that love but go forward, transcend that error, until the love becomes a redeemed and radiant thing that others will see and rejoice, giving thanks to God.
St Cyril of Alexandria (370 - 444)
Alexandria was the largest city in the ancient world. Rather like Los Angeles, it was a sprawling mixture of races and creeds; and it was a byword for the violence of its sectarian politics, whether of Greeks against Jews or of orthodox Christians against heretics. Cyril began his career as a worthy follower of this tradition. He succeeded his uncle as bishop of Alexandria in 412, and promptly solved a number of outstanding problems by closing the churches of the Novatian heretics and expelling the Jews from the city. This caused trouble and led to an ongoing quarrel with the Imperial governor of the city and to murderous riots. It is not for this part of his life that St Cyril is celebrated.
In 428, Nestorius, the new Patriarch of Constantinople (and hence one of the most important bishops in the world) made statements that could be interpreted as denying the divinity of Christ. The dual nature – human and divine – has always been hard for us to accept or understand, and if it seems easy it is only because we have not thought about it properly. Those who dislike problems have had two responses: to deny the human nature of Christ or to deny his divinity: and either leads to disaster, since both deny the Incarnation and hence the divinisation of human nature.
The resulting battle was as unedifying as most of the early fights that defined the shape of Christianity, because both sides were concerned to defend something that they saw as being of infinite and eternal importance. If it had been a question of power politics, of who got what post and what revenues, the matter could have been settled quietly – but this was not about power, it was important, and the victory was more important than the methods. Seen from fifteen centuries later, the proceedings seem melodramatic and absurd: Cyril arriving at the Council of Ephesus accompanied by fifty bishops wielding baseball bats (or the fifth-century equivalent); the Emperor, burdened with a sister who supported Cyril and a wife who supported Nestorius; the ratification of the contradictory decrees of both the council that supported Cyril and the council that supported Nestorius; the imprisonment of both bishops; the bribery...
To revere Cyril of Alexandria is not to approve the methods he used: he fought according to the conventions of the time, and with its weapons. But he never sought to destroy Nestorius or any of his opponents, only to win the day for the truth of salvation: would that controversies today were fought with such pure motives.
After the fireworks of the Council, Cyril was moderate and conciliatory, and sought to reconcile to the Church any Nestorians who were willing to engage in dialogue. It is largely through his efforts that we can celebrate (even if we still fail to understand completely) the two natures of Christ, and that we can address Mary as “Mother of God”. It is as a theologian rather than as a politician that Cyril is honoured.
So let us give thanks that Cyril lived, and let us enjoy the fruits of his achievement; but although we ought all to share his pure zeal for the truth, let us not hurry to imitate his more vigorous methods!
Other saints: St John Southworth (1592? - 1654)
John Southworth is normally included with the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, and only in the diocese of Westminster, where he died, is his feast kept separately, on the anniversary of his execution. But if he was worth canonizing, he is worth knowing; for saints are not canonized to make up an arbitrary quantity.
John Southworth was the only English martyr to suffer under a dictatorship. The English Civil War ended; the King was executed; the Elizabethan Prayer-Book outlawed; freedom of conscience proclaimed. But Catholics, who had been accused of plotting against the King, were still persecuted when there was no King; they had been fined for refusing to accept the Prayer-Book, and they were still persecuted when there was no Prayer-Book; all they asked was freedom of conscience for themselves and their countrymen, and freedom of conscience was given to everyone but them. Priests had to come and go, in secret, in fear of betrayal and death, as they had had to do for more than a generation.
John Southworth was ordained priest at the English College at Douai in 1618. After returning to England he was arrested in Lancashire in 1627 and condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted to imprisonment; in 1630 he was handed over, with several other priests, to the French Ambassador for transportation abroad. Whether he actually went or not seems uncertain, but he was certainly in England in 1637, when Westminster was devastated by the plague. He was seen visiting an infected house, and since there could be only one reason for anyone to visit the sick under such dangerous circumstances, he was arrested and charged with being a priest. On that occasion the authorities quietly set him free and he disappeared underground once more; but such clemency enraged the Puritans, and, seventeen years later, in 1654, when they were in power, they had their revenge.
At his trial, it was open to John Southworth to plead Not Guilty to the criminal and capital charge of being a priest – most of the missionaries did, to cause as much trouble as possible to the persecutors. But Southworth did not. If he had pleaded Not Guilty, the court might have acquitted him; as it was, the judge wept as he passed sentence. He would have saved his life, but he would have been denied the glory of solidarity with all the other English martyrs.
The body of John Southworth was bought from the executioner by the Spanish Ambassador, who returned it to Douai for burial. At the time of the French Revolution he was re-buried in an unmarked grave for protection. The grave was rediscovered in 1927 and the body returned to England – the only complete remains of any of the English martyrs. Upon Southworth’s beatification in 1929, his relics were enshrined in London’s Catholic cathedral in Westminster.
Although the penal laws remained in force, perhaps the sight of such an obviously innocent man being cruelly killed discouraged their application; for it was 24 years before the next priest was martyred. And no doubt his prayers have helped to win the temporary liberty of conscience that England now enjoys, imperfect and threatened though it is.
May the prayers of all martyrs, everywhere, win true liberty for us all.
Other saints: Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
Hallam, Leeds, Middlesbrough
One of the most popular representations of Our Lady is the picture of Our Mother (or Our Lady) of Perpetual Succour. The icon shows the Blessed Virgin Mary wearing a dress of dark red, representing the Passion of Jesus; with a blue mantel representing her perpetual virginity; and with a cloaked veil representing her modesty. On the left side is the Archangel Michael; on the right side is the Archangel Gabriel. The star on Mary’s forehead signifies her title as Star of the Sea.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century, this picture was brought from Crete to Rome; it was in the possession of a merchant from Crete, who appears to have stolen it; it is reputed to have hung in his home for some years. In 1499, during the pontificate of Alexander VI, it was placed in the church of San Matteo in the via Merulana, where it was venerated for some three hundred years. In the aftermath of the French revolution the church was destroyed and the whereabouts of the picture were unknown. It was providentially rediscovered in 1865. Pius IX restored it to public veneration in the church of St Alphonsus Liguori in Rome.
When the new diocese of Leeds was created in December 1878, Our Lady of Perpetual Sucour was declared principal patroness of the Diocese. In 2010 the title was changed to Our Lady of Unfailing Help.
The Diocese of Hallam was formed on 30 May 1980 by the division of the Dioceses of Leeds and Nottingham and consists of South Yorkshire, parts of the High Peak and the Chesterfield Districts of Derbyshire and the District of Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, under the patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour.
Other saints: Blessed Nykyta Budka (1877 - 1949)
He was born in 1877 in the village of Dobromirka in the Austro-Hungarian province of Eastern Galicia. He was ordained a Ukrainian Catholic priest in Lemberg (later Lwów and currently Lviv) in 1905. He was consecreated as the Ukrainian Catholic Bishop for Canada in 1912.
He returned to Eastern Galicia in 1927 and became Vicar-General of the Metropolitan Curia in Lwów. After the Second World War Britain and America gave Eastern Galicia to the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities decided to put the Ukrainian Catholic Church under their own authority and separate it from Rome, and when he resisted, Budka was imprisoned, along with other bishops, on 11 April 1945 and was worked to death in a labour camp in Kazakhstan, where he died on 28 September 1949.
He was beatified as a martyr on 27 June 2001 by Pope John Paul II.
Other saints: Blessed Vasyl Velychkovsky (1903 - 1973)
He was born on 1 June 1903 in Stanislav in Eastern Galicia, then a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the town was later Stanisławów in Poland, then Ivano-Frankovsk in the Ukrainian SSR, and is currently Ivano-Frankivsk in western Ukraine). He entered the seminary in Lwów (currently Lviv) in 1920 and was ordained priest in 1925. He became abbot of the monastery at Ternopil. He was therefore arrested by the Soviet secret police in 1945 and sentenced to death. The sentence was commuted to 10 years’ hard labour.
He returned to Lviv in 1955 and was ordained bishop in 1963. He was arrested once more in 1969, imprisoned for three years and then exiled to Canada in 1972. He died in Winnipeg on 30 June 1973. He was beatified in 2001.
About the author of the Second Reading in today's Office of Readings:
Second Reading: St Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 - 1167)
Aelred was born in Hexham in around 1109. His family was well connected and at an early age he was sent into the service of King David of Scotland. There he rose to the position of Master of the Royal Household. In time he became attracted to the religious life, but he was also much attached to the life he lived at court and to King David himself. It took a considerable personal struggle for him at the age of 24 to give up his secular pursuits and to enter the newly founded Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in Yorkshire in 1133. At 34 he moved from there and took charge of a new foundation in Lincolnshire. But within four years he had returned to Rievaulx as Abbot where he remained for the rest of his life. He died in 1167.
Aelred is remembered both for his energy and for his gentleness. His writings and his sermons were characterised by a deep love of the Scriptures and by a very personal love of Christ ‘as friend and Saviour’. He was sensitive and understanding in his dealings with his fellow monks and under his direction the monastery at Rievaulx grew to an extraordinary size. He did not enjoy robust health and the last ten years of his life were marked by a long and painful illness. His position as Abbot required him to travel on visitation to monasteries not only in England and Scotland but even in France, and the physical suffering and exhaustion which this incurred seems to have been considerable. A contemporary account of the last year of his life describes him as being left helpless on his bed unable to speak or move for an hour after celebrating his morning Mass.
Aelred was a singularly attractive figure, a man of great spiritual power but also of warm friendliness and humanity. He has been called the St Bernard of the North.
Liturgical colour: green
The theological virtue of hope is symbolized by the colour green, just as the burning fire of love is symbolized by red. Green is the colour of growing things, and hope, like them, is always new and always fresh. Liturgically, green is the colour of Ordinary Time, the season in which we are being neither especially penitent (in purple) nor overwhelmingly joyful (in white).
|Mid-morning reading (Terce)||1 Corinthians 10:24,31 ©|
Nobody should be looking for his own advantage, but everybody for the other man’s. Whatever you eat, whatever you drink, whatever you do at all, do it for the glory of God.
|Noon reading (Sext)||Colossians 3:17 ©|
Never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
|Afternoon reading (None)||Colossians 3:23-24 ©|
Whatever your work is, put your heart into it as if it were for the Lord and not for men, knowing that the Lord will repay you by making you his heirs. It is Christ the Lord that you are serving.