I wrote last year that saints choose you--and now a year later, I really understand that. Of all the things I could have learned in an apprenticeship with St. Alfred, he honored me by taking me with him through his secret, most terrible battle.
The battle of physical illness.
An interesting article appeared in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1991. An analysis of St. Alfred's physical condition suggested that the symptoms described by his biographer Asser were most consistent with Crohn's Disease. While St Alfred was also described as "sickly" as a child, this disease afflicted him the most as an adult. Crohn's disease is an inflammation of the digestive tract, causing severe bouts of pain and diarrhea.
I cannot begin to imagine what it was like to live on a horse, hide in the wilderness and lead men into battle with this horribly painful, embarrassing and debilitating disease. Yet suffered it he did, all the while growing greater in faith, inspiring learning and forging a new unity of the people. Now, I believe he chose me so that I could learned what he learned.
Shortly after that last posting, I developed the worst case of allergic asthma I have ever had. It went on and on for months. It is actually still going on in the dead of winter. I couldn't walk across my own room, much less clean it. I was on so many antihistamines I couldn't think clearly, one reason why I did not add to this blog. I shared with St Alfred and other chronically ill people the sheer terror of wondering when the illness, a crafty enemy, would sneak up on me and lay me low.I was tied to my home with Crohn's like symptoms and couldn't even go to Mass for fear of catching a common cold or the flu that might worsen my condition.
What was the worst part? The pain, the gasping for air, the onset of the attacks? All of these were bad but the worst part was the temptation of sin that came with them. Temptation to the sin of Despair.
I found myself not even asking that the illness be taken from me--I could only ask that I not fall into despair. Day after day I was tempted to emotionally "give up", as Job's wife said "Curse God and die". Some days I would think it was all getting better and then a setback. Again. Trying not to listen to the Evil One speaking through the words of Job's wife--inarticulate prayers asking for the intercession of St Michael the Archangel and St Benedict to resist the self destruction of Despair.
So I have had a year of exile in Athelney as well. A year of desperate prayer saying "Please do not let me give up hope. Please help me to bear this with dignity and courage". And as I am getting allergy shots and slowly getting a little stronger, I am thankful, but like St Alfred, I do not know whether I will truly be completely healed.
While there were many prayers. I did not ask directly for the intervention of St Alfred because I did not, at the time, truly understand that this was his battle too. However, he did intercede for me, for I was one he chose to learn the lesson that he had learned. He was there whispering to me, most assuredly it seems in the matter of my prayers to bear this as well as I could. As he did, though he bore it better than me, still he is my example.
Holy St. Alfred , please intercede for all who are ill with disease that leaves them with pain and the temptation to despair. Thank you for your example of bearing illness with dignity and courage, while yet leading your people and forging a new nation.