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Saint Alphege, Bishop and Martyr

April 19
by Fr John Bartunek, LC | Source:

Uncle Eddy's E-mails -- April 19

Saint Alphege,

Bishop and Martyr

(entered heaven in 1012)

Dear Paige,

No doubt about it, prayer requires sacrifice. You have to sacrifice to commit the time for it, and you have to sacrifice (in the form of self-discipline) to follow through on that commitment even when your prayer is as dry as stale donuts. The sacrifice is worthwhile, though. Prayer fills the heart with grace, and only grace will give you the strength you need to be faithful and fruitful in this life, as today´s saint was.

Alphege was a noble-born Saxon who defied his mother´s possessive careerism and become a monk (she had politics in mind). He devoted himself to prayer and penance, to contemplation and humility. All he wanted was to glorify God by living a quiet, austere, meek life.  But God had other plans. Word spread that he was a holy man, and so he was made abbot of his monastery in Bath (southern England). He fulfilled this duty with such wisdom and efficacy that he was soon made bishop of Winchester. For 22 years he poured himself out for the good of his flock, completely eliminating poverty and edifying rich and lowly alike with his prayerful and joyful humility.

England was facing tough times in those days, however, and Alphege was destined to take part in them. King Olaf of Norway had invaded the Island and was ravaging the area around London. + Although King Ethelred had been able to rally the English and resist Olaf´s assaults, the Norwegians´ presence was tearing apart the social order. During a pause in the violent clashes, King Ethelred sent the by now famous Alphege on a peace-making mission to the Olaf´s camp. The saint was successful. He arranged a meeting between the two sovereigns in which a peace treaty was concluded, and after which Olaf, who had already received baptism, was confirmed. The Norwegian King withdrew his army and never returned.

Soon afterwards, Alphege was made Archbishop of Canterbury and received the pallium from the Pope. He was now the leader of all Christians in England, and one of the most influential churchmen in Europe. He continued his personal austerities and long hours of prayer, even as he was forced to engage in weighty matters of state and to shepherd an expanding flock.

Then the Danes invaded England and initiated a five-year period of looting and pillaging. Canterbury was one of the targets, and its renowned Archbishop was led into slavery. He remained a prisoner for two years. And when he repeatedly refused to go on a fundraising trip to extort a hefty ransom for his release (he argued that the people were already suffering too much from the scourges of war and plague), his drunken captors dragged him to the prison scaffolding, pelted him mercilessly with stones and bones, and humiliated him in diverse ways, until one of them put him out of his misery with a mighty stroke of the axe.  Soon thereafter, peace was restored.

Providence had given St Alphege a demanding mission.  I don´t think you have been given anything less. If you build your life on prayer (not necessarily lots of hours of prayer, but lots of love in whatever hours you do spend in prayer), you will be sure to fulfill it with flying colors, much to your delight, and to Christ´s as well.

Your loving uncle,

To read more about other Saints of the day, CLICK HERE

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