Cry out with joy to God, all the earth: serve the Lord with gladness.
Year: B(I). 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 Etheldreda (- 679)
She was born in Suffolk in the first quarter of the 7th century. She was married twice but remained a virgin, and in 672 left her second husband, the King of Northumbria, to become a nun. The following year she founded a monastery of men and women, which she ruled as abbess, on the site of what is now Ely cathedral. She died there in 679. She was the most venerated of the women saints of Anglo-Saxon England, renowned for her dedication to a life of chastity and for the austerity of the regime she imposed on herself in her later years.
Other saints: St Thomas Garnet (1575-1607)
Arundel & Brighton
Thomas Garnet, who was born in 1575 or 1576, came of a staunch Catholic family. His father had been a Fellow of Balliol College, Oxford, but had been expelled for his Catholicism before Thomas was born. His uncle was the Jesuit superior in England, Father Henry Garnet. Thomas spent part of his boyhood in Horsham, where he attended the Grammar School (now Collyer’s School), and it appears that when he was about thirteen the whole family found themselves for a time in Horsham gaol. The year was 1588, a year when the threat of the Spanish Armada brought suspicion on any known Catholics. At some time, also, he was a page in the household of one of St Philip Howard’s half-brothers, probably Lord William Howard.
At the age of eighteen Thomas had made up his mind that he would offer himself for the English mission as a secular priest. He went first to the newly-opened English school at St Omer in Flanders, and in 1596 began his theological studies at the English College at Valladolid in Spain. He was ordained in 1599, and very soon returned to England.
He spent the next six years ministering to the Catholics in this country. Little is known about his movements – naturally enough, since he was defying the law of Elizabeth I which made his presence in England as a priest a capital offence. His superior was the Archpriest Blackwell, of whom we shall hear more.
In the year 1605 he approached his uncle, Henry Garnet, asking to be admitted into the Society of Jesus. He was accepted, but before he could go abroad for his novitiate both he and his uncle were arrested. Henry was charged with complicity in the Gunpowder Plot and executed. Thomas was imprisoned, in the Gatehouse and then in the Tower, and subjected to constant interrogation, in an attempt to find something to incriminate himself or his uncle. After eight months even Cecil, the head of the Commission, accepted that he had nothing to do with the Plot, and after he was released into banishment. Those eight months, spent in the cold and damp of the Tower, brought on rheumatism or sciatica, from which he suffered for the rest of his life. Even after his release, he was presented with a letter purporting to be written by his uncle, admitting some of the charges against him. A word from Thomas would have validated the letter, but he scornfully rejected it as the forgery it was.
Back on the Continent, Thomas eventually (1607) arrived at the newly-opened Jesuit Novitiate House in Louvain. He was professed after five months, his period of imprisonment being accepted as part of his novitiate.
And so Thomas returned to England, a Jesuit priest. But this time he was not as fortunate as he had been before. Instead of six years, he had barely six weeks before he was betrayed by an apostate priest and was once again lodged in the Gatehouse prison. There he was interrogated by a Commission headed by the Bishop of London. Ordered to take the Oath of Supremacy, he refused. This was a new oath, requiring the person to “abhor, detest and abjure as impious and heretical the damnable doctrine and position that the King of England, if excommunicated” (as Elizabeth had been) “may be deposed or murdered by his subjects.” The Bishop of London put it to Thomas that the Archpriest Blackwell had taken the oath (which was true). Thomas hesitated, but after consideration refused “because he thinketh that it were a violation of the Catholic faith to abjure anything as heretical which the Church hath not defined as heretical, or is not manifest by the word of God to be heretical.” These interrogations went on for eight months, to June 1608. Finally the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Wade, was added to the commission, and soon got Thomas transferred to Newgate – the prison for those whose destiny was death at Tyburn.
From Newgate he was brought to trial at the Old Bailey on four charges. First, that he was a priest and had come into England against the statute of Elizabeth. The prosecution pointed to the words “Thomas Garnet, priest” scratched on the wall of the cell in the Tower where he had been imprisoned two years before. But no proof could be adduced that he was the writer. Second, that he was a proscribed Jesuit; since Thomas would admit nothing, this was also unproved. The third charge was that he had seduced the King’s subjects from their duty and allegiance. This Thomas hotly denied, and produced a form of the Oath which he was ready to take. This paper was torn from his hand and destroyed. The final charge was that he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance; this he admitted, and on that ground he was sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor.
June 23rd dawned, the day appointed for his execution. Eyewitnesses were all struck by Thomas’s resolute and positively cheerful demeanour. On the scaffold he said, “I am a priest out of the blessed Society of Jesus, though I am most unworthy and one of the worst of them all.” And he added: “I am the happiest man this day alive. This is the happiest day that ever I did see.” He forgave and prayed for those who had betrayed and condemned him. As he sang the hymn Veni, Creator Spiritus, the cart was driven away. Well-wishers weighed down the hanging body, to ensure his immediate death, before the barbaric disembowelling could commence. A friend, posing as a madman, made off with his clothes and other relics.
Thomas Garnet, first martyr from the School of St Omer’s, first novice of the English Jesuits’ house at Louvain, was canonised as one of the forty Martyrs of England and Wales in 1970.
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 orderly sequence of weeks through the year, a season in which we are being neither single-mindedly 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.