The great saints of the past are perfect examples for us, especially in these troubled days. The Apostle to Germany, St. Boniface, is one of the great examples of missionary zeal. Nowadays, bishops and priests tend to tiptoe around cultural issues. But to be a true missionary, one must value souls above all.
Birth name Winfrid, the saint was born in England sometime at the end of the seventh century. He was pious and possessed great intellectual gifts. After becoming a Benedictine monk, he was put in charge of the monastic school and became known as a great preacher.
Despite having big prospects in England, he thirsted for the conversion of the Germanic people and traveled to Rome in 718 in order to get the pope's blessing. After the saint proved his knowledge of the Faith, Pope Gregory II gave his permission a year later, sending him to the area of Germany east of the Rhine river.
He traveled extensively and preached, bringing back into the Church Catholics who had lapsed into paganism. In 723, he was called back to Rome, consecrated a bishop and given the name Boniface (a name meaning "of good fortune," not "doing good" as some claim). He returned to Germany and saw that some of the people had again reverted to paganism in his absence.
This time Boniface made sure to drive home the point that the Christian God is true while all the man-made gods are demons. At Geismar, in central Germany, the people worshiped an oak tree — claiming it belonged to the Norse god, Thor.
Trees played a big symbolic role in Norse cosmology. St. Boniface saw that the massive oak tree was a danger to the people's faith, so he took an ax to it.
There are two versions of the story. One says St. Boniface chopped the whole tree down by himself. The other version claims he started chopping but only made a notch when a bolt of lightning split the tree into four sections. Either way, the people there converted once and for all.
The bishop was not afraid to destroy a pagan icon that ruled the hearts of his spiritual children. He did not tiptoe around a heathen culture that was inferior to the Catholic culture that he was trying to bring to the people. He did not apologize or ask to dialogue with the priests of Odin and form a commission to make the liturgy more acceptable to Odinites.
In 754, St. Boniface and 52 companions were attacked by angry pagans and martyred. He died for the Faith that he tirelessly worked to bring to the Germanic people. Pray that today's bishops will learn from St. Boniface's example.
Learn more by watching The Download—Brassy Bishop.