On June 5, 754, the eve of Pentecost, Boniface and a few dozen of his fellow-missionaries were killed at Dokkum, Friesland, in the Netherlands. The place is called Moodrwoud (“the murderwood”).
This, being Pentecost-tide, seems like a good opportunity to reflect on how we spread the Good News in our world today.
St Boniface, initially Winfrid, is known to the Church as the man who took the axe to the root of Thor’s Oak, at Geismar, now part of the town of Fritzlar in North Hesse, Germany.
This has led to the concept that Christians stormed into pagan lands chopping down sacred groves and setting fire to heathen temples.
Actually, a closer look, particularly into St Boniface’s life and missionary approach, shows that he was not consumed by religious zeal.
St Boniface was performing a political act as a Roman legate. Sources acknowledge that the Christian faith was already popular in the region. We read of bishops, regular services, and devoted missionaries. Army chaplains and people bringing the Gospel to “indiginous peoples” are not noted for focusing on subtleties of doctrine. They provide guidance, emotional support, and good examples for the troops. Boniface was asked to serve a political purpose by aligning the Germanic tribes to Christianity. This was Charles Martel’s way of uniting Europe.
This prayer is attributed to Boniface. And it gives us some insight into his gentle approach that is often misconstrued:
Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children,
we praise you for all you have given us,
for all you have done for us,
for all that you are to us.
In our weakness, you are strength,
in our darkness, you are light,
in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.
We cannot number your blessings,
we cannot declare your love:
For all your blessings we bless you.
May we live as in your presence,
and love the things that you love,
and serve you in our daily lives;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the sort of prayer that springs from the depths of a genuine, living faith. Probably he realized that loving and serving God is inseparable from loving and serving those around him.
So, in the wake of Manchester and the London Bridge incidents, we need to ask ourselves how we face resurgent, religious fanatics and militant peoples. St Boniface could serve as a guiding light here. If we can offer love unconditionally and if we can improve our surroundings by our service to society. Perhaps people will be more inclined to adopt a faith that doesn’t insist upon doctrinal differences. But courageous acts of loving service.
Fr Deon Lombard