EXCERPTS: ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS XII ON ST. BONIFACE JUNE 5, 1954
Prayer first: then mission
Boniface was Anglo-Saxon by birth. At an early age he strongly felt God calling him to leave his ancestral possessions and the attractions of a life in the world and to enter a monastery, within whose safe walls he could more easily devote himself to heavenly contemplation and the practice of the counsels of perfection. He answered the call; and in the monastery he made such rapid progress in the study of both liberal and sacred sciences and also in the practice of Christian virtues that he was elected Superior.
To uncharted waters:
Winfred, afterwards named Boniface by Pope St. Gregory II, was undoubtedly outstanding among the missionaries for his apostolic zeal and fortitude of soul, combined with gentleness of manner. Together with a small but courageous band of companions, he began that work of evangelization to which he had so long looked forward, setting sail from Britain and landing in Friesland. However, the tyrant who ruled that country vehemently opposed the Christian religion, so that the attempt of Boniface and his companions failed, and after fruitless labors and vain efforts they were obliged to return home. Nevertheless he was not discouraged.
He traversed various parts of Germany and Friesland. Wherever there were no traces of Christianity, but all was wild and savage, he generously scattered the Gospel seed, and labored and toiled that it might fructify wherever he found Christian communities utterly abandoned for want of a lawful pastor, or being driven by corrupt and ignorant churchmen far from the path of genuine faith and good life, he became the reformer of public and private morality, prudent and keen, skilful and tireless, stirring up and inciting all to virtue.
Men who knew prayer and fasting:
To begin and carry out successfully this tremendous undertaking, he earnestly called for companions from the Benedictine monasteries in his own land, then flourishing in learning, faith and charity, -- for monks and nuns too, among whom Lioba was an outstanding example of evangelical perfection.
"[L]ike a new archimandrite he began everywhere to plant the divine seed and root out the cockle, to build monasteries and churches, and to put worthy shepherds in charge of them." Men and women flocked to hear him preach, and hearing him were touched by grace; they abandoned their ancient superstitions, and were set afire with love for the Redeemer; by contact with his teaching their rude and corrupt manners were changed; cleansed by the waters of baptism, they entered an entirely new way of life. Here were erected monasteries for monks and nuns, which were centers not only of religion, but also of Christian civilization, of literature, of liberal arts; there dark and unknown and impenetrable forests were cleared, or completely cut down, and new lands put to cultivation for the benefit of all; in various places dwellings were built, which in the course of centuries
The beginnings of a new civilization:
Among the various monasteries (and he had many built in those regions) the monastery of Fulda certainly holds first place; to the people it was as a beacon which with its beaming light shows ships the way through the waves of the sea. Here was founded as it were a new city of God, in which, generation after generation, innumerable monks were carefully and diligently instructed in human and divine learning, prepared by prayer and contemplation for their future peaceful battles, and finally sent forth like swarms of bees after they had drawn the honey of wisdom from their sacred and profane books, to impart generously that sweetness far and wide to others. Here none of the sciences of liberal arts were unknown. Ancient manuscripts were eagerly collected, carefully copied, brilliantly illuminated in color, and explained with careful commentaries. Thus it can justly be maintained that the sacred and profane studies Germany so excels in today had their venerable origins here.
What is more, innumerable Benedictines went forth from these monastic walls and with cross and plow, by prayer, that is, and labor, brought the light of Christian civilization to those lands as yet wrapped in darkness. By their long untiring labors, the forests, once the vast domain of wild beasts, almost inaccessible to man, were turned into fruitful land and cultivated fields; and what had been up to that time separate, scattered tribes of rough barbarous customs became in the course of time a nation, tamed by the gentle power of the Gospel and outstanding for its Christianity and civilization.
But the monastery of Fulda was in a particular way a center of divine contemplation and prayer. For there the monks, before undertaking the difficult task of evangelizing the tribes, strove through prayer, penance and labor to attain the heights of sanctity. Boniface himself, as often as he could withdraw briefly from his apostolic labors and rest a little, loved to repair there to refresh and strengthen his soul by divine contemplation and protracted prayer. "It is a forest place," he wrote to Zacharias, Our predecessor of holy memory, "in an immense wilderness, where among the tribes to whom we preach we have built a monastery and established monks who live the rule of our holy father Benedict, men of strict abstinence who get along without meat and wine, without strong drink, without serfs, content with the labor of their own hands. . .
It was especially in the silence of this monastery that he found the power from on high that strengthened him to go forth eagerly to fresh combat, to bring into the fold of Christ so many German tribes, to confirm them in the faith, and oftentimes to lead them on even to lives of evangelical perfection.
When he and his little band had taken departure from the others, "he traveled through all Friesland, ceaselessly preaching the word of God, banishing pagan rites and extirpating immoral heathen customs. With tremendous energy he built churches and overthrew the idols of the temples. He baptized thousands of men, women and children." After he had arrived in the northern regions of Friesland and was about to administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to a large number of newly baptized converts, a furious mob of pagans suddenly attacked and threatened to kill them with deadly spears and swords.
At the moment of this martyrdom, Boniface, who was to be beheaded by the sword, "placed the sacred book of the Gospels upon his head as the sword threatened, that he might receive the deadly stroke under it and claim its protection in death, whose reading he loved in life."
A beggar for prayers:
From his letters it is abundantly clear how much this apostle trusted in divine grace, besought by humble prayer, to bring his undertakings to fruitful issue. In them he constantly begged for prayers from the Bishop of Rome, from friends whose holiness he esteemed, from nuns whose communities he had either founded, or by wise counsel sought to lead to evangelical perfection; through their intercessions he hoped to receive divine help and grace. Let us quote, as an example, what he wrote to the "revered and dearly loved sisters Leobgith and Thecla, and to Cynehild": "I urge and direct you, beloved daughters, to pray to our Lord frequently, as we trust you do constantly, and will continue to do, as you have in the past . . . and know that we praise God, and our heart's yearning grows that God our Lord, refuge of the poor and hope of the lowly, will free us from our straits and the trials of this evil age, that His word may spread, and the wonderful Gospel of Christ be held in honor, that His grace be not fruitless in me. . . And since I am the last and least of all the ambassadors whom the Catholic and Apostolic Church of Rome has destined to preach the gospel, pray that I may not die without some fruit for that Gospel."
The Father of Germany:
The life of St. Boniface which we have touched upon briefly, Venerable Brothers, teaches us all something else. On the pedestal of the statue which was erected in the monastery of Fulda in 1842 portraying the Apostle of Germany, one reads this sentence: "The word of the Lord lasts forever." And indeed nothing more significant, nothing truer could have been inscribed there. Twelve centuries have passed, one after the other; different peoples have migrated back and forth; so many vicissitudes and horrible wars have followed one another; schisms and heresies have striven, and still strive, to rend the seamless garment of the Church; imperial might and the dictatorships of men who seemed to fear nothing, to shrink from nothing, have quickly crumbled; different philosophical conjectures, which strive to reach the peak of human learning, continually succeed one another with the passing of time and repeatedly assume a new appearance of truth. Yet the word that Boniface preached to the people of Germany, Gaul and Friesland, since it came from Him Who endures forever, flourishes also in our day and is the way, the truth and the life for all those who willingly and gladly embrace it.
Indeed also in our times there are not lacking those who reject this word, who try to corrupt it with fallacious errors, who finally, trampling upon the liberty due to the Church and the citizens themselves, strive to destroy and tear out completely this word from human hearts by means of lies, ill-treatment and persecution. Yet, as you well know, Venerable Brothers, this crafty art is not new; it was already known at the very beginning of the Christian era; Our Divine Redeemer Himself forewarned His disciples with these words: "Do not forget what I said to you: No servant can be greater than his master. They will persecute you just as they have persecuted me." But yet that same Redeemer consolingly added: "Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the kingdom of heaven is theirs." And again: "Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely because of me. Be glad and light-hearted, for a rich reward awaits you in heaven."
Confidence among the hostile:
We are not surprised therefore if, today also, the Christian name is hated in some places, if in many regions the Church in the discharge of her divinely given mission is obstructed by any and every means, if not a few Catholics are deceived by false doctrines and forced into the grave danger of losing their eternal salvation. May all of us be encouraged and strengthened by the promise of Our Divine Redeemer. "Behold I am with you all the days that are coming until the consummation of the world," and may we obtain strength from on high through the intercession of St. Boniface who in order to spread the kingdom of Jesus Christ among hostile people did not flee from long labors, rough journeys and even death itself, which he courageously and confidently went to meet in the shedding of his blood.