This week we celebrated the feast of Saint Boniface, which gave another example of how the best way to come to know all the riches and talents of the Church is to enter into her Sacred Liturgy every day, not only on Sundays and feasts.
Now, I have known Saint Boniface for a long time. He is the patron and founder of the town of my brother-in-law’s family, Fulda (Germany). He is entombed beneath the cathedral there.
An Englishman sent on mission to the pagans, he preached to the (barbarian) German tribes and brought many of them to Christ, founding monasteries and dioceses and building up the Church and the civilization that only she can provide. However, those successes did not satisfy him, and late in life he set out to bring Christ to the pagans of Friesland.
Like many of their cousins across the English Channel, the Friesians worshipped trees. Saint Boniface began his conversation with them by cutting down their largest and most sacred oak. They were not amused. Though a number were converted, a number also attacked and killed him, cutting him down much as he cut down the tree.
I have always thought of Saint Boniface a bit much; over the top, pushy, and at the very least, undiplomatic. But as I re-read (for the umpteenth time) his letter in the daily Divine Office, I was reminded of several things that it is easy to forget.
First, he emphasizes that the only thing we have of value is the Faith that we have received from the Apostles who came before. Second, he reminds us that the Church is constantly rocked by adversity and attacked by opponents for her insistence on the Truth, but that adversity and those opponents will not prevail. Third, he points out that those who have been entrusted with the mission of pastoring souls must speak this saving truth in its entirety to those entrusted to their care, at the peril of their own souls. I give you some of his own words:
In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship but to keep her on her course.
The ancient fathers showed us how we should carry out this duty: Clement, Cornelius and many others in the city of Rome, Cyprian at Carthage, Athanasius at Alexandria. They all lived under emperors who were pagans; they all steered Christ’s ship—or rather his most dear spouse, the Church. This they did by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.
I am terrified when I think of all this. Fear and trembling came upon me and the darkness of my sins almost covered me. I would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church which I have accepted if I could find such an action warranted by the example of the fathers or by holy Scripture.
Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. Let us wait upon God’s strengthening aid and say to him: O Lord, you have been our refuge in all generations.
Let us trust in him who has placed this burden upon us. What we ourselves cannot bear let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful and he tells us: My yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Let us be neither dogs that do not bark, nor silent onlookers, nor paid servants who run away before the wolf. Instead let us be careful shepherds watching over Christ’s flock. Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength, in season and out of season, as Saint Gregory writes in his book of Pastoral Instruction.
Thank you, Saint Boniface. Now, let me at that stupid tree!