Friday, August 3, 2012

St. Waltheof of Melrose: Forgiveness and Prayer

Melrose Abbey. (Source.)
My friends know that I have a great devotion to the saints, especially those off the beaten path, who may not have much of a public cultus.  In my years in the monastery, the evening reading from a bound, typescript translation of the Cistercian Menology was one of my favorite times of the day.  In addition to giving a bit more detail about the day’s Cistercian heavy hitters, who would also be mentioned in the Martyrology, the Menology, gave blurbs for those I liked to think of as God’s also-rans—the servants of God, venerables, and blesseds, who might have languished in relative obscurity for centuries.

Today’s entry in the modern Cistercian Menology for St. Waltheof, Abbot of Melrose, is just such a case.  Also known as Walden, Waldef, etc., he died in 1160.  His life is recorded as follows:

After his father's death, his mother married King David of Scotland and Waltheof was brought up at court where St Aelred became his close friend. Unlike Aelred, however, Waltheof was not attracted by court life and cultured society. He became a canon of St Augustine and was made prior of their house at Kirkham.

In 1143 he was elected archbishop of York and, in order to escape from the position, he fled to the Cistercian monastery of Wardon, not far from London. During his novitiate he experienced great dryness of soul; doubts and fears were increased by the austerities which he found very difficult to bear. However, with the encouragement of Aelred, he remained firm in his resolve to persevere as a Cistercian. At some point he went to Rievaulx where Aelred was abbot and in 1147 he himself was made abbot of Melrose. He was an abbot after the mind of St Benedict: firm but gentle, full of tolerance and understanding of human weakness. He was especially anxious that his monks refrain from criticizing one another and once a fault had been acknowledged and expiated in Chapter, he strictly forbade anyone to make any reference to it by word or sign. He had a special love for the lay-brothers, gave them frequent conferences and received them for spiritual direction.

Waltheof's piety was especially nourished by the liturgy and his greatest graces had their source in some text of the offices of the great feasts. He was also devoted to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

In 1159 he was offered the bishopric of St Andrew's, but feeling his end was near he declined to accept. On his death bed he thanked God for all the trials and sufferings of his life as for the most precious graces.

St. Waltheof's example of tolerance, his antipathy towards murmuring, and his ability to forgive and move on make him an apt example for many of us. His grounding in the life of daily prayer is also a useful corrective to those of us who fall into the trap of believing we will reach heaven not by putting on the mind of Christ, but by correcting people who were wrong on the internet. Recalling and repeating a good antiphon or responsory is probably of far more value than a string of combox rejoinders, a reminder I frequently need myself.