St Boniface

Archbishop of Mainz (central Germany), martyr (entered heaven in 754)

Dear Bonnie,

You have always been popular, just like today’s saint.  In fact, when he resolved to leave behind his beloved English monastery and set out to convert the pagans in northern Europe (today’s Germany), his followers elected him abbot in order to convince him to stay.  But he knew his calling and forged ahead. Later, when he had been consecrated regional Bishop for all of Germany and Papal Legate to Germany and Gaul (today’s France), his letters requesting missionaries from England to help his evangelizing activities brought a steady flow of eager disciples across the Channel and into his religious workforce.  As a gifted teacher, an even more gifted preacher, and a phenomenal organizer, his warm, inviting personality opened hearts and attracted converts his whole life long. A popular fellow indeed. But he is not to be emulated for his popularity, my dear niece. Rather, he is to be emulated for his willingness to risk his popularity.

When he came to the Continent, pockets of Christians could already be found among the Germanic towns, ministered to by a few scattered priests and monks who were far from exemplary pastors (or Christians, for that matter).  Boniface’s challenge was to wean these Christians and their non-Christian neighbors from their comfortably and deeply ingrained pagan ways. Even the Christians would sell their slaves to witches and sorcerers for human sacrifice.  Polygamy, infanticide, divorce and the whole gamut of pagan practices were fondly practiced by those who claimed to be followers of Christ (including a few bishops and nuns) and those who didn’t. Striding into such a moral quagmire in order to preach self-control, monotheism, humility and brotherly love was not a formula to win popularity contests.  But he cared less about pleasing other people than he did about pleasing God, and this spirit of faith gave him the strength he needed to challenge the very people he targeted for conversion.

You will remember, of course, the famous scene on Mount Gudenberg.  Boniface had recently returned from one of his trips to Rome, where he had received special authority from the Pope and then from the powerful monarch Charles Martel (I imagine the local chieftains were less content with this than he was).  He publicly announced that on the following day he would chop down Donar’s sacred oak tree – one of the most popular objects of pagan devotion in the whole region. The amazed and fearful crowd gathered to see how the gods would punish such impetuous presumption, but after a few hacks, the giant tree thundered to the ground, breaking into four immense parts.  St Boniface had no qualms about risking his own popularity in order to ensure lasting adherence to the gospel.

I can’t help thinking that this is a lesson you might need to learn, especially after reading a copy of that talk you gave to the Alumni Association, in which you tactfully avoided mentioning the issues that really ought to have been mentioned.  I leave it up to your prayers and those of St Boniface to give you the courage you need to continue “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and not the kingdom of Bonnie.

Love, Uncle Eddy

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