Rievaulx Abbey

Charity – a short word indeed, but with its meaning of perfect and unalloyed love it sums up the whole human attitude to God and his creatures.

Or, to use our Lord’s own explanation, it is on charity that all the Law and the Prophets depend….

Charity gives the soul a spiritual circumcision.

The delights of a never ending sabbath, the saving victims offered by the loving soul to God, the perfumed incense and fragrant smoke of sacrifice – these are merely some of the fruits of charity when it is firmly rooted in the soul.

Yet none can flourish or even live in a soul where charity is not present.

The circumcision effected in the soul by charity is the complete casting off of our baser inclinations as they affect both body and soul.

The result is that the flames of lust are quenched and anger’s heat is cooled.

Tempering also the appetites of gluttony, charity further roots out all envy and banishes completely the mother of all vices, pride.

And it so soothes the sting of melancholy in the soul that even accidie, that spiritual torpor which is the aftermath of melancholy, is waylaid.

Yet another effect of charity’s circumci­sion of the soul is that munificence cuts the shackles of graspingness so that nothing – least of all the desire for wealth – can take God’s place in the soul’s devotion.

Surely no physical operation could have greater effect than this spiritual circumcision which amputates vice, drains the pus of sin, removes the dead skin of original sin, and burns away the gan­grene of long-standing evil.

Then the mind is untroubled by fear or worry, for the calm of perfect love reigns there.

Lust’s evil desires can leave no stain, anger’s raging will never again sear the soul, nor will pride inflate it with self-importance.

Gone is the blinding desire for earthly glory together with the heat of anger and the sting of ambition.

No longer does the soul yearn for masses of worldly wealth, no more can sadness make it downcast nor envy gnaw at it.

For as Saint Paul tells us, when charity reigns in the soul, there is no envy or double-dealing, no arrogance or self-centredness, no self-pity or self-aggrandizement.

It is easy to see, then, that the circumcision of the soul destroys all evil at the same time as it purifies all the senses of the body, just as the surgeon’s knife cores out a poisoned wound.

Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 1167): Speculum Caritatis 10-11, from the Monastic Office of Vigils, Thursday in Week 1 of Ordinary Time, Year 1.