St Ethelwald the Hermit

(entered heaven in 699)

Dear Ethel,

Your complaints give you away.  If you are finding the demands of Catholic morality burdensome, and have “had enough with these silly limitations,” as you put it, it is without a doubt because you have neglected your life of prayer.  Doing God’s will has no attraction if our friendship with him has grown cold and distant, which always happens when we don’t make that effort to spend time alone with him every day. If you are willing to once again spend time alone with the One who loves you, pouring out your heart to him, searching for him in the Scriptures, listening to him in the Eucharist – if you will make time for him once again, those “silly limitations” will regain their meaning, and their sweetness.  

This is the great lesson of the Church’s many saintly hermits.  God allowed them to taste the incomparable delight of his presence, and they wanted only to flee from the empty, vain, insipid pleasures of the world.  And in their austere solitude, their souls were filled with God himself – quite a reward for so many “silly limitations.” By retreating from the busy-ness and distractions of life in the world, these holy men and women actually gained mastery over the world, as today’s saint illustrates so forcibly.  We don’t know much about him, except that he took over St Cuthbert’s island cell after that great apostle finished his race. There he lived for twelve years in prayer and silence, amid the stormy seas and jutting rocks. Every once in a while some young monks from the nearby Holy Island (site of the Abbey of Lindisfarne) would come to spend time with Ethelwald and receive spiritual direction.  Once such a group finished their meeting and began their return trip when a violent storm suddenly arose, tossing their skiff like a leaf. Fearing for their lives, they looked back and saw the hermit emerge from his cell, look their way, and then drop to his knees as if to pray. The sea went calm, and they made it safely back to Lindisfarne. But as soon as they had docked their little boat, the wind whipped up again the storm continued, twice as menacing as before.

A deep friendship with Christ – and the generous amount of time spent in prayer that builds it – will see you safely along life’s journey, my beloved niece; it will prove much sturdier than the fragile vessel of “an active social life.”

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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