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Reflection on Ælfred the Great

Updated: Jan 3

In the name of one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Today is the celebration of Alfred the Great. Allow me to read a portion of his dedication in Holy Women, Holy Men:

“Alfred, alone of all English rulers, has been called “the Great,” because of his courage and Christian virtues. Born in 849 at Wantage, Berkshire, the youngest of five sons of King Æthelwulf, Alfred spent his life in a time of “battle, murder, and sudden death” during the Viking invasions and settlement in Britain. He was deeply impressed when, on a visit to Rome at the age of four, he was blessed by Pope Leo IV, and two years later when he witnessed the marriage of Æthelwulf to a young princess of the Frankish court. Following his father’s death and the short reigns of his brothers, Alfred became King in 871. In heroic battles and by stratagems against the Danes, Alfred halted the tide of their invasion, and secured control of the southern, and part of the midland regions, of England for the English. After a decisive victory in 878 at Edington over the Danish leader Guthrum, he persuaded his foe to accept baptism. Alfred died on October 26, 899, and was buried in the old Minster at Winchester.”

As indicated by that last sentence, he was not only a good military and political leader, he was a faithful man. He translated dozens of important works of the Church Fathers to vernacular language. He strengthened and resourced the episcopacy so that they could better train priests. He increased literacy, expanding schooling to common folks with promise. He reestablished Christian practice where Vikings had destroyed it and invested funds into rebuilding what was lost in the invasion.

Alfred is a good saint for me to consider today because I have been thinking about leadership a lot lately. As a young military officer, I have been looking at older officers for things that I think are effective and good. As a candidate for Holy Orders, I have looked to experienced Priests for guidance.

My reflections have mirrored what our Gospel passage states, I have observed that the best leaders possess solid foundations of faith. Particularly in the Army, their faith may not always mirror my own. However, the disparity in the way individuals of faith engage with the world – the positive outcomes that stem from having a foundation in something greater than mere self-assurance, personal desires, and a purely worldly perspective on morality – sharply contrasts with those who, lacking an awareness of the Almighty, struggle when tough decisions need to be made, when challenging times arise, and when adversity knocks at our door.

But even living day-to-day, even if you are not leading a country, or leading men and women to war, or leading a congregation to grow closer with God, we must still know how to lead. In the Army, we have a saying that everyone is a leader, because at the least, one must lead themselves to make righteous, moral, and good decisions. Our Gospel passage today makes it clear that righteous living, and therefore righteous leading, comes from having a foundation that is built on the solid rock of the person of Christ, on the community that the church offers, and an outlook on life that is not self-motivated, but motivated by a divine charge to walk humbly and love justice by loving other so deeply that those in the world without a rock-solid foundation will never be able to grasp or understand. Serving, humbly walking with the Lord, and leading others to see the light of the Gospel, all require a heart that is oriented not on self, but on God.

We know that people with good hearts produce good works. Like Alfred, who brought peace to his land, who strengthened the foundation of his people, who sought to ensure justice and tranquility, let us also continue to build our lives on a solid foundation of faith that all the world can see. Amen.

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