St Swithbert

Bishop and Confessor (entered heaven this day in 713)

Dear Albert,

There is an old Latin phrase that can help solve your dilemma: “quid est hoc ad aeternitatem?”  “How does it look in the light of eternity?”  Spring break with your fraternity brothers at Daytona Beach will certainly have some enjoyable moments (though I don’t think you need your uncle to tell you that it will also submerge you in temptations).  But that’s it.  Spring break on the missions in Mexico will be uncomfortable, demanding, full of hard work, unpredictable, and probably somewhat dangerous.  But every moment of it will be a deposit in the bank of eternity, a deposit that will go on chalking up interest for the rest of your life, for you and for the people you serve.  If that observation doesn’t help you decide, maybe a glance at today’s saint will.

He was a member of England’s greatest missionary generation.  If you recall, the faith took root in Ireland and England before it took root in northern Europe (Holland and Germany included).  In the 600s, the burgeoning English Church steadily exported missionaries to bring the Good news to those lands.  The first groups returned to England empty-handed.  But that only increased the missionary fever.  Little by little, the Word took root in those violent, dangerous lands.  It required bloody and un-bloody martyrdoms, but in the end, the faith began to flourish.

Swithbert was one of these tireless apostles.  He started out as a monk in northern England, under the tutelage of the great St Egbert, with whom he took a trip to Ireland and learned the arts of holiness.  Around 690 he crossed the Channel with twelve other missionary monks, under the leadership of St Willibrod.  The field had been plowed by their predecessors, and the dedication of this second missionary wave yielded great success.  Just six years after their arrival, Willibrod was consecrated bishop of Utrecht, and the hundreds of converts won over to the faith by Swithbert called for his consecration as well, which occurred back in England in 697.

Upon returning to southern Holland, he consolidated the existing churches, and pressed on into hitherto unevangelized zones.  His initial progress there was reversed by the invasion of the Saxons, who wreaked havoc among the native peoples.  Soon after, Swithbert retired to an island hermitage to prepare for his death.  There he built a monastery and a church, which survive to this very day.

The only reason you and I have received the blessing of the faith is because men and women like Swithbert were willing to put their lives on the line to spread it.  Now, in our day and age, the torch has passed to us.  I suggest, therefore, that you make your vacation decision in light of the Light.

Your interested uncle,


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