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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Wednesday

Memorial of St. Boniface, bishop and martyr

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

On June 5, 754, the Church gained 52 martyrs for the faith. Among them was St. Bonifice, archbishop toGermany.

St. Bonifice was born in England to a wealthy family. His father was not in favor of Bonifice’s early attraction to monastic life. We do not know if his father eventually gave his blessing, but we do know that young Wilfred, as he was known at the time, entered a Benedictine monastery near Winchester, England. Wilfred eventually taught in the abbey school and was ordained to the priesthood when he was 30 years old. During his time at the abbey, he wrote a Latin grammar book for his students, a treatise on poetry, and a book of riddles.

When the abbot died in 716, Wilfred was 36 years old and expected to take his place. He declined the position and instead set out on a missionary journey to Frisia, a land near Utrecht in present-day Holland. His mission was hampered by a war that broke out in the area, and he was forced to return to England.

The next year Wilfred traveled to Rome. He met with Pope Gregory II, and the pope, impressed with Wilfred’s zeal, gave him the name of Bonifice, after the legendary fourth-century martyr. He appointed Bonifice as bishop for Germania, a diocese that lacked any church organization. Bonifice would never return to England, although he remained in contact with friends and family throughout his life.

The famous story connected with Bonifice in his new diocese is when he challenged those worshipping Thor, the god of thunder, that he could chop down their sacred Donar Oak, which is translated as “thunder oak,” and survive. If so, he would then be allowed to introduce his God to them.

It is said that as Bonifice began cutting at the base of the tree, a warm wind began to blow and pushed the tree over. The people not only received Bonifice favorably but listened to his teaching and embraced Christianity.  The wood from the tree was used to build the chapel of St. Peter, now the Cathedral of Fritzlar, Germany.

After many years building up the church in Germany, Bonifice returned to the pagan land of Frisia. He always desired to preach the Gospel to the people where his first mission attempt had been unsuccessful. The elderly bishop made the trip with 51 companions. Many people were baptized in response to their preaching, and a large group was prepared for confirmation. When Bonifice and his party arrived for the confirmation ceremony, they were met instead by an aggressive band of marauders. All in Bonifice’s group were killed.

Here is a sampling of one of Bonifice’s many letters that have been preserved:

“Let us stand fast in what is right and prepare our souls for trial. 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 is light.’

“Let us preach the whole of God’s plan to the powerful and to the humble, to rich and to poor, to men and women of every rank and age, as far as God gives us the strength . . .”

Lord, your martyr Bonifice spread the faith by his teaching and witnessed to it with his blood. By the help of his prayers, help us to strengthen our faith, and give us the courage to profess it in our lives. We ask this through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Blessings,

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

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