Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Tuesday in the Octave of Pentecost - on the missionary impulse

Dom Gueranger devotes most of his reflection for today in his Liturgical Year to the missionary imperative of the Church under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, following the verse 'Veni, sancte spiritus, reple tuorum corda fidelium, et tui amoris in eis ignem accende' (Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love).

The missionary impulse, he argues, is a measure of our fervour:

"The first operation of the Holy Ghost in the Church is the election of its members...the sequel is all impetuosity, divine rapidity of action, irresistible conquest. He sends forth his messengers: their sound goeth forth into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. He goes before them; He goes with them; He works victory, while they speak."

He recalls the holy princesses and queens of Europe who converted their pagan or heretic husbands, and thus ultimately their countries, such as Clotilda, Queen of the Franks who converted Clovis I (d. 545); Bertha of Kent (d. 612); Theodolind of the Lombards (d. 591); and Hedwiges of Poland (responsible for the introduction of the faith to Lithuania in the fourteenth century). One could also add Ingunthis of Spain (c579) and Ludmilla of Bohemia (d. 921) to this list.

These days converting one's husband is unlikely to have such far-ranging consequences (though who knows, perhaps the full story around Gorbachev hasn't really yet been revealed....), but remains a necessary duty in any case given the number of mixed marriages around, and the many threats to the faith of children (not the least of which appears, in many cases, to be the operation of the catholic education system)!

Dom Gueranger also mentions some of the famous missionary saints, such as Augustine (Britain), Boniface (Germany), Cyril and Methodius, and so forth.

I have to admit St Boniface is one of my favourite saints, and a nice reminder that the modern-day addiction of many Benedictines to political correctness is not particularly representative of their history. St Benedict famously originated the missionary impact of his Order:

" In this place there was an ancient chapel in which the foolish and simple country people, according to the custom of the old gentiles, worshipped the god Apollo. Round about it likewise on all sides, there were woods for the service of the devils, in which even to that very time, the mad multitude of infidels offered most wicked sacrifice. The man of God coming there, beat the idol into pieces, overthrew the altar, set fire to the woods, and in the temple of Apollo, he built the oratory of St. Martin, and where the altar of the same Apollo was, he made an oratory of St. John. By his continual preaching, he brought the people dwelling in those parts to embrace the faith of Christ." (St Gregory, Dialogues II, chapter 8).

Following this model, St Boniface was an English Benedictine monk who was eventually appointed Archbishop for Germany by the Pope, and was martyred in 754. He was primarily responsible for the conversion of Germany, and seems to have played an important role in the designation of the Carolingian dynasty as Kings (displacing the Merovingians) by the Pope. One of the more famous incidents in his missionary activities was when he threatened to cut down a holy oak dedicated to Thor, challenging Thor to strike him down if he did so. In fact as he started to chop, a great wind arose and miraculously the oak blew over, and the locals duly converted.

Dom Gueranger's theme is that even as places such as Europe fall away from the Church, 'the Holy Ghost will add to her glories in some other way'. In our own time one might point to the enormous growth in the Church in Africa and Asia for example.

Let us indeed pray for those undertaking missionary work in all its forms. And pray particularly that the Holy Ghost might rekindle the fire of love in the hearts of the faithful in Australia.

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