Sermon for the Initial Profession of Br Aelred 

The sermon, in my opinion, is really meant as a time to explore the Gospel. And we generally think of the Gospel as the books known as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Well, today I intend to talk only about the Gospel, the good news of Jesus, but I don’t intend to even mention Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John… 

The four Gospels surely point us in the direction of the Gospel – but Jesus was, and is, a living person, one of the three persons of Trinity, of God. The Gospel is the Good News of Jesus – living and dynamic just like Jesus. Written words can start us on the right path, but ultimately it is our knowledge and love of Jesus, the living person, not the written words, that delivers us. 

So, the Gospel I intend to talk about today is the Gospel that we meet in living persons. St Benedict tells us that we are to look for God in the face of every stranger. But today, I don’t want to focus on a stranger so much as a brother. We have known this person as a brother, a son, and a friend going by the name of Edwin Storme Neil Kriel. 

In just a short time he will be adding another name to that list… We will know him in the future as Brother Aelred – Aelred Edwin Storme Neil Kriel. The name gets bigger because Aelred is not shedding an identity – he is adding. Before the end of this service, he will be a Professed Monk, no longer a Novice. He will be Brother Aelred, no longer Brother Edwin – though we all must be patient as we make the adjustment… 

I don’t have to say too much about who Edwin has been. We know him. He is the kid who loved church and felt totally at home in church. He loved worship and he loved the trappings of worship – the garments, the candles, the hymns, and the incense. The more trappings, the better…  

That Edwin is still very much a part of Aelred. As you may know, he is recently back from an extended stay in our Mother House in West Park, New York. He brought back so many souvenirs of his time there that a substantial extra fee had to be paid for his luggage. And what kinds of souvenirs did he collect? Chalices and patens, chasubles and stoles, and books… no Statues of Liberty in miniature or Empire State Building salt and pepper shakers… Fifty kilos of liturgical trappings and books…  

To be honest, many of the books were for me… so make that forty-five kilos of liturgical trappings… Aelred will be a happy Monk for quite some time… 

Edwin was also the sort of kid who loved gatherings, councils, groups and the like. I dare say many will remember him from these gatherings and I can tell you he will pay you handsomely to keep quiet about what folks got up to at some of those meetings… But in truth, Edwin was and is a very warm and loving person – a person made in the very image and likeness of God. I hope and pray that the loving spirit of that young Edwin remains very much alive in Aelred. The God we worship is, after all, the God of love. 

Here we are, at this moment when the person that was Edwin is transforming into the person that will be Aelred – it is an awesome privilege to share this transition. 

But who, we may be asking, will this Aelred be? A good place to start is by looking at who the historical Aelred was.  

Aelred of Rievaulx was a twelfth century Cistercian monk at the Abbey of Rievaulx – in the northeast of England. For much of his life he was Abbot of Rievaulx. The river Rye runs in a valley through the hills of the region; and it is in that valley, Rievaulx or Rye Valley, that the monastery was built. The Cistercians seemed to prefer to build their houses in valleys. The effect at Rievaulx is that a breathtaking monastery is framed by awesome hills. Some believe that it was the sheer beauty of the place that first spoke to Aelred.  

Before entering the Monastery, Aelred was high up in the Court of King David the 1st of Scotland even though he was only in his twenties. We believe he was Chief Steward or Head of the Household. And it seems that Aelred of Rievaulx, not unlike Aelred of St Benedict’s was the life of the party at court… Like our Aelred, he may have been willing to pay handsomely to keep some of his court antics quiet…  

Aelred was on a journey for the King when by chance he travelled past Rievaulx. And though he continued his journey, it seems his heart never left Rievaulx. Aelred finished his business but did not return to Court. He left the service of the King and entered the Monastery… the service of a different King… Things that he had learned at court followed him into monastic life. He was an able leader, a skilled politician, an excellent manager, and most of all, a great lover of people. So, you see, that Aelred and our Aelred are not all that different.  

The sharp-eared folks may be thinking that Aelred of Rievaulx was a Cistercian, and our Aelred is a Benedictine – how can they be that much alike when they are different types of monks?  

Benedictines, in very broad terms, have a long history – and much of that history involves becoming soft, lazy, and corrupt. At some point a group of monks felt that their brothers had simply grown too soft… had strayed too far from Benedict’s ideal. A reformation was needed…  

So, the Cistercians formed to do a better job of being Benedictines than the Benedictines. Fast forward a bit and it seems that some felt that the Cistercians had grown too soft, and a reformation was needed – so the Trappists formed to do a better job of being Benedictines… and then there were Cistercians of the Strict Observance… and so on. 

Even in Benedict’s time, Benedict describes what he considers ideal for his monks, but notes that the monks of his time cannot be convinced, so he says, more or less, do the best you can.  

Benedict seems to have understood that we must resist the temptation to let perfection be the enemy of good. And I dare say this is something that Aelred of Rievaulx also understood from his time in Scotland’s Royal Court. As we read through his writings the message is “strive to be your best and love your brothers as they are. Don’t shame them but inspire them to be their best.” 

Thomas Merton, a Trappist, another order that felt that set out to be better Benedictines than all other Benedictines… Merton was asked to sum up what it meant to be a monk. He said “I fall down. I get back up. I fall down. I get back up. I fall down. I get back up…” The monastic life is characterized not by perfection – we fall. Monastic life is characterized by getting back up. While we don’t look forward to falling down, we can look forward to getting back up. That, you may have noticed, isn’t just Monastic… it’s human… 

When Jesus heals various people, he often concludes with a statement like “your faith has made you whole.” Aelred Edwin, this journey into monasticism that you are on is a journey of faith. And it is our faith that makes us whole. It may not always be easy, and it may not always be pretty, but it is and always will be beautiful. Be prepared to fall now and then. And then be prepared to get back up. 

In his rule, Benedict observes that there are four kinds of monks – great monks, good monks, bad monks, and horrible monks… This may be a bit of an oversimplification… The great monks are the ones who live in a community, in a Monastery. This was Benedict’s ideal – and it is the type of Monk the Order of the Holy Cross seeks to produce. The good monks were solitaries, or hermits. Benedict was OK with these folks as long as they had spent time in a Monastery – in a community.  

Then came the third monks who made things up as they went along. If they wanted to do something, then they just knew that the Rule compelled them, conveniently, to do it… These are the worst monks that Benedict can imagine – except for the fourth type who are even worse than Benedict can imagine… These were wandering monks who spent some time in one monastery, then moved on to another, and then another. 

In a few moments Aelred Edwin will take the Benedictine vow. He will profess obedience, stability, and conversion of life. Of those bad monks we just talked about, one set made up their own rules. In other words, they were not obedient. And the others wandered from place to place. In other words, they were not stable. Instability and disobedience are powerful tools for avoiding conversion of life.  

Swiss Psychologist Adolph Gugenbuhl Craig, compares conversion of life to rocks in a polisher. As the rocks tumble in the polisher, they bump into each other and wear down the rough places. It is a process that involves friction and, I’m sure if the rocks could talk, they would tell us some pain. If the rocks bump too much you get sand, not polished rocks. If they don’t bump enough, you get back the rocks you put in… not polished. 

In this process Aelred, you must be prepared for some pain… for some things (and some of your brothers) to rub the wrong way. And you must be prepared to rub some of your brothers the wrong way. Welcome this as it is a sign that you are being made whole – that you are undergoing conversion of life. And at the same time, your community is also being made whole as well. We polish each other. Some friction is needed… 

None of your brothers on this side of heaven are done with this journey. It is a life-long process. It includes sickness and health, joy and sorrow, gratification and frustration, because wholeness includes all things. Anything less just isn’t whole. 

Our Superior, Br Robert James, says that for Aelred of Rievaulx friendship was sacramental – a human channel for Gods’ grace to humankind. As you take this name, I pray that you will embrace Aelred of Rievaulx’s great love for sacramental friendship – with your brothers, with your family, and with the wider community. Everyone is an image of God. This is the loving union to which we are all called. 

This is the journey to which God has called you, Br Aelred. May God strengthen you and bless you on your way. 

Preached by Br Scott Wesley OHC

5 thoughts on “Sermon for the Initial Profession of Br Aelred ”

  1. What a beautiful celebration of words of and over your life Br Aelred. May being with the Lover of your soul so intentionally bring you much joy!

  2. Pingback: March 2024 News - Initial Profession of Br Aelred Edwin Kriel OHC - Saint Benedict's Priory

  3. Scott –
    Thank you so very much of the reminder of the vows that Edwin & all of
    us Benedictines take to live at some level of this commitment to God.
    with love from this Associate for Edwin & his journey
    Laurel Stewart

  4. Eleanor Sulston

    Thank you, Scott, for sharing this moving sermon. It is special to “be there” with you all as Aelred is received and blessed. What a grand day! Ellie

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