Alfred the Great was king of the West Saxons in England during the ninth century. The days of Alfred’s rule were not easy. His country was invaded by the Danes. The Danes won almost every battle. After many struggles, his army was broken and scattered. He also had to flee to the forest. After days of walking alone, he came to the hut of a woodcutter. Tired and hungry he begged the woodcutter’s wife to give him something to eat.
The woman did not realize he was her king. However, she said “come in, I am baking a cake, I will give you some when it is ready.” So, she asked him to watch the cake while she went to milk the cow to give him some milk as well. “Watch it carefully, and make sure it does not burn while I am gone.” “Ok, no problem” the king said and sat down beside the fire.
He tried to pay attention to the cake, but soon all his troubles filled his mind. How was he going to get his army together again? How was he going to prepare it to face the Danes? How was he going to defeat them? When the woman came back, she found her hut full of smoke and her cake burned. “You lazy, good-for-nothing!” she cried. “Look what you have done! You want something to eat, but you do not want to work for it!” And she continued scolding him when her husband came back from work and immediately recognized the king and said to her: “be quiet! Don’t you realize that he is our king?”
She immediately ran to the king’s side and knelt asking for forgiveness. But the king said: “you were right to scold me, I told you I would watch the cake and then I let it burn. I deserved what you said. Anyone who accepts a duty, whether it be large or small, should perform it faithfully.”
The story does not tell us if King Alfred had anything to eat that night. But it was not many days before he had gathered his men together again – accomplishing his duties as king – and he drove the Danes out of England. He really learned the lesson: if we accept a responsibility, we must accomplish it. This lesson is important for our religious life and above all for our acceptance of the call to holiness.
We accepted the call to holiness and we must be responsible with it. This means that we cannot get distracted by the troubles or fascinations of this world. King Alfred could have said: “I am sorry but to protect England from the Danes is more important than a cake”, but he did not.
And this is another lesson related with responsibility. Because we are human, we fail many times because of our weaknesses. The king tried to pay attention, but since his problems were bigger than a cake he got distracted. However, he did not make an excuse. He was a mature person and accepted his mistake.
His attitude was the opposite of Adam and Even. Adam put the responsibility on Eve. Eve in turn put it on the serpent: The snake tricked me (Gen 3:13). That is the reaction of our fallen/immature nature. It is very easy to find an excuse, although others many times realize that it is an excuse. It is easier to say: “I am sorry I was busy; I couldn’t do it” than to say: “I forgot” which usually is the truth.
We must be responsible for our actions and recognize our mistakes. Making excuses for our failures is an immature behavior and does not help us to be responsible with the duties we accepted.