Sermon: Aelred Of Rievaulx (Friendship)

Jesus said, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Aristotle, who lived some three hundred years before Jesus, asked the question, “What is a friend?” And his answer seems to capture what Jesus had in mind: a friend is a “single soul dwelling in two bodies.” This implies a closeness that is an “indwelling” of one another. We can see this in our relationship with Jesus, but it can also come into being between two people. This is an idea that we can learn from others, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together) and Thomas Merton, and also from our saint for today, Aelred of Rievaulx.

Aelred lived during the twelfth century, dying on this day in year 1167. He was a monk and later the abbot at the monastery of Rievaulx in Yorkshire, England. He is the author of several works, but perhaps his most known is the short, three part book, Spiritual Friendship. In the introduction of the Liturgical Press edition, the editor states: Aelred “writes of the sacramental essence of friendship—the way in which men and women may by loving one another embrace Christ in this life and enjoy eternal friendship with God in time to come.”

Aelred, like Aristotle, believes that true friendship is the making of two into one. He writes, “Friendship is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness and out of many are made one.” That sounds very close to what we hear in the book of Genesis and the marriage vows and I believe that is exactly what Aelred has in mind: friendship with another as close as a friendship with a spouse.

He tells us that “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of all our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy.”

In addition, he sees nothing wrong with having what we might call a best friend, writing, “Divine authority commands that many more be received to the clasp of charity than to the embrace of friendship. By the law of charity we are ordered to welcome to the bosom of love not only our friends but also our enemies. But we call friends only those to whom we have no qualm about entrusting our heart and all its contents, while these friends are bound to us in turn by the same inviolable law of loyalty and trustworthiness.” Love demands that we love and pray even for our enemies, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to pour out our hearts to our enemies or just anyone else that sits down beside us, therefore, a friendship is something that includes love, but is also beyond love, for in a friend we find another part of ourselves.

In the words of Winnie the Pooh, “A day without a friend is like a pot without a single drop of honey left inside.” I pray that your honey pot is running over.

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