June 3, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Boniface

John F. FinkWhere are the parades and parties to celebrate the feast of St. Boniface on June 5 as there are for the feast of St. Patrick on March 17?

Boniface did for Germany about the same things that Patrick did for Ireland. I suspect that the answer to my question lies in the differences between Germans and Irish, wrote someone with German ancestry who had a wife of Irish ancestry.

Boniface was an English Benedictine monk who was sent on a missionary journey to Germany by Pope Gregory II in 719. He returned and reported to the pope in 722 that paganism was rampant in Germany, and that the Church there needed reform.

So the pope sent him back, making him a regional bishop of all Germany and instructing him to organize the German Church. The pope gave him a letter of safe conduct from Charles Martel, a Frankish leader and grandfather of Charlemagne, which helped considerably.

Boniface was extremely successful, founding dioceses, convening councils and promulgating laws. But not everyone appreciated his efforts. He and 53 companions were martyred by pagans in 754.

In one of his personal letters, Boniface wrote about his responsibilities. His duties were different from ours, but there is wisdom in considering why we must be faithful to our responsibilities.

He wrote first that the Church is like a great ship in the ocean, being pounded by the waves of life’s different stresses.

“Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course,” he wrote.

He recalled some of the ancient fathers of the Church, who showed him how he should carry out his duties. He mentioned specifically Popes Clement and Cornelius along with others in Rome, Cyprian in Carthage and Athanasius in Alexandria.

They all lived under pagan emperors, he said, but still managed to steer Christ’s ship—“or rather his most dear spouse, the Church.” They did this by teaching and defending her, by their labors and sufferings, even to the shedding of blood.

Boniface admitted to being terrified when he thought of that. He wrote that he would gladly give up the task of guiding the Church in Germany if he could find such an action warranted by the example of the Church Fathers or by Scripture. But he could not.

Therefore, he would continue his work, standing fast in what is right and preparing his soul for trial because “truth can be assaulted but never defeated or falsified.”

He wrote that he would continue to trust in God, who placed the burden that he was feeling upon him.

“What we ourselves cannot bear,” he wrote, “let us bear with the help of Christ. For he is all-powerful.”

He said that he was determined not to be like paid servants who run away before the wolf, but rather a careful shepherd watching over Christ’s flock. He intended, he said, to “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.” †

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