Sermon: St. Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr (1012 a.d.)

img-Saint-Alphege-of-WinchesterThe Psalmist writes:

“Why should I be afraid in evil days,
when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me?”

Alphege became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1005 amidst a longstanding war between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes. Like most such wars, peace often seems to have won the day, when one or the other party does something remarkably stupid that ignites the conflict once again. And it was in 1011 that the battle stirred again.

This time, Canterbury came under siege and fell less than a month later. In the mayhem that followed, Alphege was taken captive. Many of those that were taken captive with Alphege were released after a ransom was paid for their lives, but Alphege refused to pay the ransom himself and refused to allow the members of his church to pay. He believed that they were overburdened as it was and would not allow them to add to it on his behalf.

Despite the fact that he worked tirelessly for the good of his captors, treating their illnesses and proclaiming the Gospel, after seven months he would be tortured and eventually put to death.

The Psalmist asked, “Why should I be afraid of evil days?” And Jesus stated in our Gospel, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” Alphege seems to be one that clearly heard these words.

Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear often prevents us from doing stupid things or from getting into trouble. But fear can also be an inhibitor. Fear of being hurt prevents us from loving another. Fear of failure prevents us from trying. Fear of rejection prevents us from reaching out. The Psalmist, Jesus, and the life of Alphege also say to us that the fear of death, prevents us from fully serving God.

We should not allow our fear of death to constrain us to such an extent that we aren’t willing to risk ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. No, that’s not saying go out and throw yourself in front of a bus to see if God will save you or drink the funny Kool-Aid, but it does say that we understand, as did Alphege, that death does not have the final say in our lives. That is the Easter message.

We hear that message clearly in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:
‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’”

Therefore, you may have a fear of bungie jumping, but the fear of death should be far less.

St. Josemaría Escrivá tells the story of seeing himself as a little bird. “I see myself like a poor little bird, accustomed only to making short flights from tree to tree, or, at most, up to a third floor balcony… One day in its life it succeeded in reaching the roof of a modest building, that you could hardly call a skyscraper.

“But suddenly our little bird is snatched up by an eagle, who mistakes the bird for one of its own brood. In its powerful talons the bird is borne higher and higher, above the mountains of the earth and the snow—capped peaks, above the white, blue and rose—pink clouds, and higher and higher until it can look right into the sun. And then the eagle lets go of the little bird and says: Off you go. Fly!”

Do not be afraid. Off you go. Fly!

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