October - Wilfrid of Ripon, Teresa of Avila

Wilfrid of Ripon

12th October (709), the Compleat Wrangler

Wilfrid was a man who seemed to be embroiled in controversy throughout his life. It is perhaps important that we celebrate saints like him, for it reminds us that peace and serenity are not the only routes to holiness, but that standing up for principle, even to the discomfort of those around us, can also be a faithful way of living.

Wilfrid (or Wilfrith), was born in Northumbria in about 633 and educated at the monastery of Lindisfarne. He started his life of controversy by rejecting what he saw as the insularity of their ways and went to Canterbury, Rome and later Lyons where he became a monk. When he returned to become Abbot of Ripon he immediately imposed the Roman monastic system and rule of St Benedict - which no doubt did not add to his popularity.

Wilfrid was a dominant figure at the Synod of Whitby in 663 and largely responsible for the victory of the Roman over the Celtic tradition - a major change leading to a more centralised administration of the church. Those of us sympathetic to the Celtic spiritual traditions can even today sometimes think of Wilfrid as something of a turncoat or at least with mild antipathy.

He greatly offended his clerical colleagues when elected Bishop of York by insisting on being consecrated in Compiègne by French bishops – rather than risk any thought of schism by being ordained by Celtic bishops. Then for ten years he supported Etheldreda in refusing to consummate her marriage to King Egfrith and helped her escape to a convent, for which act the king divided up his diocese.

After resigning the See of York Wilfrid became Bishop of Hexham, but in a controversy with Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury he was ordered to resign. Refusing, he appealed to Rome, but returned to Ripon to spend his remaining years in the monastery there.

While Wilfrid’s legacy was to make the English Church fully part of the universal Church, he also managed to make enemies more easily than most people make friends. He died, as he had lived, in contention, holding firm to what he believed right.

Teresa of Avila

15th October (1582), Teacher of the Faith

For Teresa God wasn’t a remote and distant entity but a real, immediate, everyday friend – someone to talk with about mundane and everyday matters as well the great and important things in life.

One day she was crossing a swollen river with a small cart, accompanied by some sisters from her convent. The donkey objected strongly and they all ended up very wet and muddy. Teresa is reported to have looked to heaven and said, "God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!"

Born into an aristocratic Spanish family, Teresa was educated by Augustinian nuns but ran away to enter a Carmelite convent at the age of 20. Much of her life was spent travelling: teaching the faith; founding religious houses, for men as well as women; and reforming the Carmelite rule, helped by St John of the Cross. But she also had a profound inner life, based on prayer, which included intense mystical experiences. She wrote of her own spiritual journey and progress towards union with God and The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle are still valued today. Her acknowledged wisdom and insight led to her being named as a doctor of the Church, one of only two women to receive this distinction (Catherine of Sienna being the other).

We can learn much from St Teresa, including that God is not like our best china – to be brought out only for special occasions and carefully out of sight and use for most of the time. China packed away eventually never gets used – because there is no occasion special enough. The same is true of God. If we leave talking to him to just special occasions we eventually won’t talk to him at all.

Jim McLean

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 30th September 1997