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Archbishop of Mainz (central Germany), martyr (entered heaven this day in 754)
Thanks for sending me a draft of your valedictorian speech. For some reason your email was delayed, and I only got it today. I hope I’m not too late to submit a few comments. Here’s my first one: REWRITE THE WHOLE THING! Why do you hem and haw about “progress” and “self-fulfillment” and “gentle discretionary compassion and mutual silent admiration”?!? Has this coveted honor stolen your honor? You know in your heart what you should say to the university community, what message they really need to hear. If you don’t say it, you will regret it for a long time, and our Lord will be hurt, and all those people will have lost an opportunity to feast on some solid truth for a change. What you need is a dose of courage to overcome your fear of offending the few who would be offended by a truly worthy speech. Maybe recalling today’s saint will suffice.
Boniface’s life consisted in resisting merely human approval in favor of God’s approval. 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.
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 of those times 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 insure lasting adherence to the gospel.
If it’s not too late, rewrite your speech with St Boniface at your side. If it is too late, don’t worry, I’ll do some penance on your behalf.
Your devoted uncle,
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