Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


St. Aidan: Praxis

Among other lessons in holy living, Aidan left the clergy a most salutary example of abstinence and continence; it was the highest commendation of his doctrine with all men, that he taught nothing that he did not practice in his life among his brethren; for he neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately among the poor whom he met whatsoever was given him by the kings or rich men of the world.

St. Aidan's life was one marked with care and devotion towards the poor. He not only proclaimed the Gospel; he lived the Gospel. He demonstrated the virtue of self-giving in very practical ways: he gave to others what he had come to possess. He was in the favour of King Oswald and others, and so had recourse to comforts and wealth, but instead of developing these for his own interests, he gave freely of all that he recieved. This charity is the result of having been given to: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (II Corinthians 8.9)

Never, through fear or respect of persons, did he keep silence with regard to the sins of the rich; but was wont to correct them with a severe rebuke. He never gave money to the powerful men of the world, but only food, if he happened to entertain them; and, on the contrary, whatsoever gifts of money he received from the rich, he either distributed, as has been said, for the use of the poor, or bestowed in ransoming such as had been wrongfully sold for slaves. Moreover, he afterwards made many of those he had ransomed his disciples, and after having taught and instructed them, advanced them to priest’s orders.

He was not bound by the fear of the powerful of the world's opinions: rather, he freely spoke the truth, regardless of the position or power of the person. This is no easy task, for we are so deeply bound in our minds to the opinions and regard of others, particularly those we deem powerful and important in our world. We seek to court their favour and good opinion, and hope to gain some benifit from it. Or we are simply afraid to speak the truth to some because of the position they hold. I find myself doing it quite often- I am content to shut up and go along, because it is far more comfortable.

St. Aidan also actively worked to free captives, both in spirit and in body. Or, as in the case mentioned above, he ransomed those who were slaves to men and also led them to the ransom from sin and death. He recognized that justice is not limited to man's outward social position- though that is certainly important- but that it is most importantly a matter of the whole man, body and soul, in his unjust captivity to Satan and sin. The Gospel calls us to rectify both. And so St. Aidan did: he sought to meet the needs of the people, both physical and spiritual.

Again we see that Aidan was not content to ignore the people he met. It is very easy- much easier in fact- to simply walk past the hurting and suffering we meet, every day. They are not our concern, we tell ourselves. Certainly there are people enslaved and oppressed and poor in our world, and even if we try to ignore them, they are still there. It is our task to not ignore them, to not genuflect to our comfort and convience, but to actually notice others in their troubles and seek to offer them the one hope that we have come to know: Jesus Christ our God. St. Aidan's life overflowed with the love and compassion that he had come to know in Christ.

Finally, St. Bede relates to us a story of St. Aidan's genorisity, which in this instance was rather heady, so to speak. In it I think Aidan reflected very much the love of God, His manikos eros- "crazy love" that Nicholas Cabasilas spoke of. For God's love is seemingly irrational and wasteful, bestowing the riches of His glory upon sinful, nasty humans who most rarely if ever offer any gratefulness at all. We are beggars all, and not only that, but beggars who spit in the face of our Benefactor. He gives us what we in no way deserve. But He gives because of His love for his creation, fallen and unworthy as we have become. St. Aidan, having come to know this love, sought to imitate it in his life. May we do the same.

He had given a beautiful horse to Bishop Aidan, to use either in crossing rivers, or in performing a journey upon any urgent necessity, though the Bishop was wont to travel ordinarily on foot. Some short time after, a poor man meeting the Bishop, and asking alms, he immediately dismounted, and ordered the horse, with all his royal trappings, to be given to the beggar; for he was very compassionate, a great friend to the poor, and, in a manner, the father of the wretched. This being told to the king, when they were going in to dinner, he said to the Bishop, "What did you mean, my lord Bishop, by giving the poor man that royal horse, which it was fitting that you should have for your own use? Had not we many other horses of less value, or things of other sorts, which would have been good enough to give to the poor, instead of giving that horse, which I had chosen and set apart for your own use?" Thereupon the Bishop answered, "What do you say, O king? Is that son of a mare more dear to you than that son of God?" Upon this they went in to dinner, and the Bishop sat in his place; but the king, who had come in from hunting, stood warming himself, with his attendants, at the fire. Then, on a sudden, whilst he was warming himself, calling to mind what the bishop had said to him, he ungirt his sword, and gave it to a servant, and hastened to the Bishop and fell down at his feet,’ beseeching him to forgive him; "For from this time forward," said he, "I will never speak any more of this, nor will. I judge of what or how much of our money you shall give to the sons of God." The bishop was much moved at this sight, and starting up, raised him, saying that he was entirely reconciled to him, if he would but sit down to his meat, and lay aside all sorrow. The king, at the bishop’s command and request, was comforted, but the bishop, on the other hand, grew sad and was moved even to tears. His priest then asking him, in the language of his country, which the king and his servants did not understand, why he wept, "I know," said he, "that the king will not live long; for I never before saw a humble king; whence I perceive that he will soon be snatched out of this life, because this nation is not worthy of such a ruler." Not long after, the bishop’s gloomy foreboding was fulfilled by the king’s sad death, as has been said above. But Bishop Aidan himself was also taken out of this world, not more than twelve days after the death of the king he loved, on the 31st of August, to receive the eternal reward of his labours from the Lord.


St. Aidan: The Grace of Discretion

Thou didst teach and preserve Christ's doctrine and didst spread the faith throughout Northumbria, O holy Hierarch Aidan. Unceasingly pray to God for us for thou dost worship before His throne for ever.

It is said, that when King Oswald had asked a bishop of the Scots to administer the Word of faith to him and his nation, there was first sent to him another man of more harsh disposition,who, after preaching for some time to the English and meeting with no success, not being gladly heard by the people, returned home, and in an assembly of the elders reported, that he had not been able to do any good by his teaching to the nation to whom he had been sent, because they were intractable men, and of a stubborn and barbarous disposition. They then, it is said, held a council and seriously debated what was to be done, being desirous that the nation should obtain the salvation it demanded, but grieving that they had not received the preacher sent to them. Then said Aidan, who was also present in the council, to the priest in question, "Methinks, brother, that you were more severe to your unlearned hearers than you ought to have been, and did not at first, conformably to the Apostolic rule, give them the milk of more easy doctrine, till, being by degrees nourished with the Word of God, they should be capable of receiving that which is more perfect and of performing the higher precepts of God." Having heard these words, all present turned their attention to him and began diligently to weigh what he had said, and they decided that he was worthy to be made a bishop, and that he was the man who ought to be sent to instruct the unbelieving and unlearned; since he was found to be endued preeminently with the grace of discretion, which is the mother of the virtues. So they ordained him and sent him forth to preach; and, as time went on, his other virtues became apparent, as well as that temperate discretion which had marked him at first.

Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 3.5

I have a particular love for St. Aidan, since coming across him while journeying through the Ecclesiastical History of the English People by St. Bede the Venerable (another English saint dear to my history-loving heart). It is to St. Bede's tome that we must turn to, in fact, to learn of St. Aidan. Although his feast day is some time off- August 31- I would like to commemorate and contemplate, in a series of posts, this wonderful Bishop of Northumbria. He lived in mission for the people of Northumbria, and was thus part of the great spread of the Gospel over the West. In our increasingly post-Christian Western world, his example is particularly relevant.

He was a Scot, Bede tells us (in Bede's time this implied Irish extraction) dwelling at the famed holy island Iona in the Pictish nation. One may imagine that to many of these Celtic Catholics the lately arrived Anglo-Saxon barbarians to the south were a rather useless lot, savages all. If the first priest did not think this on the outset of his ill-fated mission, he thought it upon arriving back at Iona. St. Aidan, however, remained concerned for this barbaric people's salvation. He recognized that pastoral wisdom and care was absolutely necessary in reaching the people of Northumbria. The Gospel must be given gradually, keeping to the simplicity of the story: and it is a remarkably simple story in many ways, enough that it would appear as 'foolishness' to the Greeks, like the Jordan River to Namaan. Yet in the simplicity of the Gospel narrative is contained all the wisdom of the world. It is is recieved by faith like a seed, which gradually expands and grows with cultivation. But the unfortunate priest had tried to circumvent the proper development of the people's understanding, and had instead 'overloaded' them in some way or another. St. Aidan emphasized understanding and care in his mission: and this doubtlessly contributed to his success. He possessed discretion in speaking the Gospel: not to diminish it but to open it those who had not heard, so that in time they might recieve its fullness.

In keeping with this spirit of care, Bishop Aidan tended to walk while traveling the countryside:

He was wont to traverse both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity; to the end that, as he went, he might turn aside to any whomsoever he saw, whether rich or poor, and call upon them, if infidels, to receive the mystery of the faith, or, if they were believers, strengthen them in the faith, and stir them up by words and actions to giving of alms and the performance of good works.

Ecclesiastical History, 3.5

He did not seek to exalt his episcopal office or his good standing with the king- both of which, doubtlessly could have helped gain converts, though perhaps not the genuine sort. Instead, we have a picture of the monk-bishop traversing the countryside on his own two feet, down with the people of the nation, not thundering by on horseback, but simply walking and talking with people. This was, of course, the manner in which Jesus went about His ministry. Aidan imitated His example, and further followed it by engaging those he met along the way. How different this is from the frantic and enclosed manner I go about life! It is not my wont to 'turn aside to whomsoever' I see and say anything, much less talk about Christ with them. I would much rather be in my car anyway, comfortably insulated from the world without. I only rarely meet the eyes of those passing me by: it is much easier to simply ignore them and not be forced to regard them. But we gather that this was not St. Aidan's way. Instead, as he walked the woods and fields of Northumbria, he actively cared for those he met, calling them to Christ, encouraging and instructing, and meeting their needs spiritually, and, as we shall see, materially as well. He sought the salvation of the Northumbrian people, through discretion and pastoral care and love, seeking out those in need of Christ.

To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I Corinthians 9.22-23

On the Glory of God

Whoever loves himself cannot love God; but if, because of the 'overflowing richness' of God's love, a man does not love himself, then he truly loves God. Such a man never seeks his own glory, but seeks the glory of God. The man who loves himself seeks his own glory, whereas he who loves God loves the glory of his creator. It is characteristic of the soul which conciously senses the love of God always to seek God's glory in every commandement it performs, and to be happy in its low estate. For glory befits God because of His majesty, while lowliness befits man because it unites us with God. If we realize this, rejoicing in the glory of the Lord, we too, like St. John the Baptist, will begin to say unceasingly, 'He must increase, but we must decrease.'

St. Diadochos of Photiki, On Spiritual Knowledge 1.12


A Dictatorship of Relativism

How many winds of doctrine we have known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking … The small boat of thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves—thrown from one extreme to the other: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism, and so forth. Every day new sects are created and what Saint Paul says about human trickery comes true, with cunning which tries to draw those into error (cf Eph 4, 14). Having a clear faith, based on the Creed of the Church, is often labeled today as a fundamentalism. Whereas, relativism, which is letting oneself be tossed and “swept along by every wind of teaching,” looks like the only attitude (acceptable) to today’s standards. We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.

However, we have a different goal: the Son of God, true man. He is the measure of true humanism. Being an “Adult” means having a faith which does not follow the waves of today’s fashions or the latest novelties. A faith which is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ is adult and mature. It is this friendship which opens us up to all that is good and gives us the knowledge to judge true from false, and deceit from truth. We must become mature in this adult faith; we must guide the flock of Christ to this faith. And it is this faith—only faith—which creates unity and takes form in love. On this theme, Saint Paul offers us some beautiful words—in contrast to the continual ups and downs of those were are like infants, tossed about by the waves: (he says) make truth in love, as the basic formula of Christian existence. In Christ, truth and love coincide. To the extent that we draw near to Christ, in our own life, truth and love merge. Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like “a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13,1).

Pope Benedict XVI


You Visit Where There Is No Exit

Heavenly king, Lord of all,
patient toward all in all things,
Son of the living God, beyond our understanding,
your true mercy is manifest
when the expectation of reward is cut off.
Your benevolence is displayed
when the mind’s vision is blocked.
Your love of mankind is expressed at the hour
when weakness lays siege from without and within.
The divine healing of your hand is manifest when
life departs completely from our bodies.
You visit where there is no exit.
Your greatness is clear when
you cure the wound of despair.
Your genuine humanity shared with us
is revealed when at unexpected times
you dispense salvation.
Your victory is obvious when
you open the closed door of life at my last breath.
Your magnificent grace is there
when you forget my wrongs and remember your goodness.
Your ungrudging generosity is manifest
when you include me in your care,
ingrate that I am, along with the grateful.
I know and recognize that you look upon
this offering of words with your former compassion
as you lift away my sinful habits.


How long would it take your omnipotent power
to pardon my transgressions?
Not even the batting of the eye,
not the fleeting side glance,
not the quick glaring flash,
not the slightest hesitation,
not the hurried footstep,
not the raindrop’s coursing a cubit,
not the grasp of a line by the mind,
not the speed of light,
not the taking of a breath.

None of these insubstantial, fleeting events or
ephemeral states is so short or instantaneous
as the disintegration, destruction and melting of the
glacier of my sins by your power God, Lord of all,
Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, beyond human understanding.
You grant the sun of sweetness to the evil as well as
the good, and make it rain upon both.
You mete out fairly the vicissitudes of life.
Those who find contentment in the expectation
of rewards, you pay with the spurs of temptation
for their few sins.
And those who have chosen the worldly life,
you forgive with mercy ministering your care to both alike,
awaiting their return to you.
To you glory, Almighty, for the miraculous work
of your patient loving care, blessed forever.

St. Gregory of Narek, Prayer 74

Pope John Paul II

But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14

Requiem in pace.