St Cuthbert

Bishop of Lindisfarne (Northern England) (entered heaven this day in 687)

Dear Bert,

I get the distinct impression that you are using the same process to choose a seminary as you did to choose a college.  I wonder why. Following a vocation to the priesthood is hardly the same as going to college. Your steps to discern which seminary to enter will be guided primarily by supernatural criteria (faith, prayer-life, Eucharistic life, fidelity to the Magisterium…), whereas choosing a college was guided by natural criteria (academic prestige, weather, location, extracurricular opportunities, etc…).  If you ignore this and start viewing your vocation as “your” vocation, and not as “God’s plan for my life,” you will handcuff the Holy Spirit; he’ll have to cater to your own likes and dislikes, which will not always coincide with God’s will. That would be unfortunate. Much better to focus on God’s action in your soul and follow his lead humbly and courageously, consciously asking yourself what he would prefer.  Then you will fly speedily along the path to holiness, as did today’s saint.

Cuthbert grew up in the north of England.  He was healthy, energetic, playful, and the leader of the other boys in his town.  They spent their days playing in the beautiful lowlands of Northumbria – Cuthbert outdid them all in every sport.  One day, while they were at their normal frolics, a companion burst into tears, saying, “Oh, Cuthbert, how can you waste your time in idle sport – you whom God has set apart to be a priest and a bishop?”  The question struck deep in his heart, and he began from then on to think about what God would have of him.

He spent his teenage years plying the trade he had learned as a boy, shepherding.  He spent long days and nights with his sheep out in the open country, and had plenty of time to reflect and pray.  The conviction of his vocation to become fully consecrated to God slowly took root, and after spending some time fighting against the Mercian invaders, he arrived at the Abbey of Melrose on horseback, brandishing his spear and asking to be made a monk.  Thus began his years of training under St Eata, with whom he eventually founded another monastery at Ripon (all in northern England).

When King Alcfrid rearranged the abbeys, however, Cuthbert was set loose from the monastic life and began his famous walking missions, which took him back and forth throughout the lowlands, preaching the gospel in houses, cottages, castles, towns, and everywhere in between.  At the same time, he began tending the sick and looking after the poor (God granted him the gift of healing), who were ravaged by war and plague. He took a special interest in the villages far off the main roads since they received little attention from the missionaries. He eventually became an abbot himself, and a bishop, but always preferred to spend his time between walking missions and retreats on a desolate island near the island Monastery of the Lindisfarne.  Through it all he championed Church unity, resolving many quarrels between Christians of the ancient Celtic tradition and the disciples of St Augustine of Canterbury, who espoused the Roman dating of Easter. (In fact, his last words included an exhortation to unity, but not at the expense of unorthodoxy: “Be of one mind in your councils, live in concord with the other servants of God, despise none of the faithful who seek your hospitality; treat them with kindly charity, not esteeming yourselves better than others who have the same faith and often live the same life.  But hold no communion with those who err from the unity of the Catholic faith.”)

He was a one-man revolution, purifying his people of their last remaining superstitions and giving continuity to the steady flow of holiness from the British Isles that enriched the Church for centuries.  But he did it all on God’s terms, discovering and embracing – unconditionally – God’s plan for his life. If you do the same, I can guarantee that you won’t have any regrets.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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