Archive for the ‘St. Boniface’ Category

Giving Our Idols the Axe

June 9, 2017

St. Boniface (675–754 A.D.) is called “the Apostle of the Germans” and spread Christianity amongst the pagans of that land. After 36 years of fruitful missionary efforts, as he prepared for a large, open-air confirmation liturgy on a Pentecost eve, a pagan band of robbers martyred the aged archbishop and his companions. The most famous story about St. Boniface (as recorded by his first biographer, Willibald, within thirteen years of the saint’s death) reflects the tensions between the old and new religions:

“At Geismar, surrounded by his companions, the saint decided to fell a gigantic oak, revered by the pagans as Jupiter’s Oak. A big crowd of pagans watched him cut the lower notch, cursing him in their hearts as an enemy of the gods. But when Boniface had scarcely chipped the front of the sacred tree, a divine blast from above crashed it to the ground with its crown of branches shivering as it fell. And as if by the gracious dispensation of the Most High, the oak also burst into four equal parts.

The bystanders could see four huge trunks, uniform in length, that had not been cut by Boniface or his associates. At this sight the pagans who had been cursing the saint, now, on the contrary, believed. They blessed the Lord and stopped their reviling. Then after consulting his companions, the holy bishop used the timber of the tree to construct an oratory there, which he dedicated to St. Peter, the apostle.”

This reminds me of a minor wonder that occurred during our Confirmations last month at St. Wenceslaus. During the Mass, driving winds blew down a large branch into our parking lot. Ron “Butch” Colson, who was monitoring the storm for us, was amazed that this heavy limb had fallen between two adjacently parked vehicles without harming either one. You can still see the blackened spot on the tree from where it fell. Though this branch had appeared sound and strong at the time of our tree-trimming project this spring, it was actually rotten and hollow inside. I would not be surprised if Jupiter’s Oak had likewise become dead and weakened within, allowing a providentially-timed wind gust to take down the whole tree after a few swings of St. Boniface’s axe.

Today we do not worship pagan idols—gods of metal, wood, or stone—yet whenever we let created things have priority before God we turn them into our idols. Our worship of idols—be they people, possessions, or pleasures—is sin. At first glance, sins can appear harmless or even healthy, but God would cut down and convert us away from them. And the Lord, who works all things for the good of those who love him, can build great things from our sins’ wreckage and rubble.

In C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, a ghost considers journeying to join God and the saints in Heaven, but he is prevented by a little red lizard on his shoulder who whispers lustful ideas into his ear. A mighty angel of God offers to kill the ghost’s loved-yet-hated tempter and, after a great struggle of will, he consents. Once the lizard is slain, the ghost transforms into a man of glory while the lizard becomes a great white stallion with mane and tail of gold. Then, like a shooting star, the man rides his horse up the slopes of God’s holy mountain in a flash.

St. Boniface boldly felled Jupiter’s oak and built a place of worship from its timbers. This day, let us turn away from our sins, handing over our idols to God, that he may remake us more perfectly into his awesome, holy, and glorious likeness.

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