Wednesday, March 20, 2013

St. Cuthbert

 From the Life of Cuthbert by the Venerable Bede (Customary of Our Lady of Walsingham)

As soon as Christmas was over Cuthbert sought out his island home one more. A crowd of the brethren gathered to see him off, one of whom, an 01 monk, strong in the faith though wasted away through dysentery, said to him.. 'Tell us, my lord, when we may expect to see you again'. The answer came back as plain as the question (for Cuthbert knew it was true): 'When you bring back my corpse'. He was given almost two months to rediscover the delights of the quiet life and to fit mind and body into the strict discipline of his old routine: then he was suddenly felled by disease, to be prepared by the fires of internal pain for the joys of everlasting bliss. Let me tell you of his death verbatim, just as I had it from Herefrith, a sincerely devout priest and present abbot of Lindisfarne.

'After being wracked by three weeks of continual illness; he met his end in the following way. He took ill, you know, on a Wednesday, and it was on a Wednesday too that the disease conquered and he went to his Lord. [ ... ] I went into him', Herefrith continued, 'about the ninth hour and found him lying in a corner of the oratory opposite the altar. I sat down beside him. He said very little, for the weight of affliction made it hard for him to speak. But when I asked him rather urgently what counsel he was going to leave us as his testament or last farewell, he launched into a brief but significant discourse on peace and humility, and exhorted us to be on our guard against those who, far from delighting in these virtues, actively foster pride and discord.'

'''Preserve among yourselves unfailing divine charity, and when you have to hold council about your common affairs let your principal aim be to reach a unanimous decision. Live in mutual concord with all other servants of Christ; do not despise those of the household of faith who come to you seeking hospitality. Receive them, put them up, and set them on their way with kindness, treating them as one of yourselves. Do not think yourselves better than the rest of your companions who share the same faith and follow the monastic life. With those who have wandered from the unity of the Catholic faith, either through not celebrating Easter at the proper time or through evil living, you are to have no dealings. Never forget that if you should ever be forced to make the choice between two evils I would much rather you left the island, taking my bones with you, than that you should be a party to wickedness on any pretext whatsoever, bending your necks to the yoke of schism. Strive most diligently to learn the Catholic statutes of the fathers and put them into practice. Make it your special care to carry out those rules of the monastic life which God in his divine mercy has seen fit to give you through my ministry. I know that, though some might think my life despicable, none the less after my death you will see that my teachings are not to be easily dismissed.'"

'These and like sayings he uttered at intervals, because the gravity of the disease, as I said before, had weakened his speech. He passed the day quietly till evening, awaiting the joys of the world to come, and went on peacefully with his prayers throughout the night. At the usual time for night prayer I gave him the sacraments that lead to eternal life. Thus fortified with the Lord's Body and Blood in preparation for the death he knew was now at hand, he raised his eyes heavenwards, stretched out his arms aloft, and with his mind rapt in the praise of the Lord sent forth his spirit to the bliss of Paradise.

Saint Bede, Life of Cuthbert 37, 39, in J. F. Webb, Lives of the Saints, translated with an introduction (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965), pp. 116, 120-121.


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