Monday, 5 June 2006

St Boniface

As we prepare for the 2006 World Cup, which kicks off in Munich at the end of the week, it's appropriate that we celebrate today the great English martyr and 'Apostle of Germany,' St Boniface (c.675-754, sometimes called Winfrid).

There's more to St Boniface than his rather eccentric name. He was born in Crediton, Devon, where his National Shrine is located, became a monk and in 716 started his missionary work in what is now Germany and the Netherlands. His preaching converted many pagans and he was not afraid to use muscular methods to win souls for Christ. One of his finest moments came when he cut down Thor's Oak, a tree that was held sacred by the Hessians - an axe is still one of his symbols. He used the wood of the oak to build a chapel.

St Boniface became a bishop (eventually gaining Mainz as his metropolitan see) and did much to 'create' the German Church by founding the bishoprics of Buraburg, Salzburg, Regensburg, Freising and Passau. He was assisted by a whole legion of English missionaries (that are largely forgotten by modern English Catholics) - St Lull of Malmesbury, St Burchard (Bishop of Wurzburg), St Wigbert (Abbot of Fritzlar), St Leoba (Abbess of Bischofstein), St Thecla (Abbess of Kitzingen), and the three siblings: St Willibald (Bishop of Eichstatt), St Winnebald (Abbot of Heidenheim) and St Walburga (the great miracle-working nun).

St Boniface was murdered by a band of aggressive pagans during his last mission, to Friesland, and he is buried in Fulda. St Boniface has been called 'the first European' and the great Catholic historian Christopher Dawson speculated that he 'had a deeper influence on the history of Europe than any Englishman who ever lived.'

St Boniface wrote many letters, which are well worth reading. One includes the following, which provides us with food for thought as we keep his feast:

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.

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 light.'

Let us continue the fight on the day of the Lord. The days of anguish and of tribulation have overtaken us; if God so wills, 'let us die for the holy laws of our fathers,' so that we may deserve to obtain an eternal inheritance with them.

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