Today is the feast of St. Boniface, martyr and apostle to the Germans. The most well-known anecdote from his life as a missionary is how he conducted sensitive, open-minded, pastoral interreligious dialogue. He encountered a village of heathens who worshipped a mighty oak tree which they believed was sacred to the thunder god Thor. Without hesitation, Boniface stripped off his shirt, picked up an axe, and felled the oak in front of the entire village. He put his foot on the stump, raised the axe over his head, and bellowed "WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW? For mine is mightier than he!" The pagans were so astonished that many of them were converted that very day. Boniface gathered the wood from the oak tree and used it to build a church where it once stood.
The example of St. Boniface makes our own missionary efforts look even weaker and more tepid by comparison. The Church spread throughout Europe through the missionary work of bold, enterprising, masculine men of both the cloth and the sword. Today we take great pains to tell the heretic and the pagan that there is much beauty and truth in their own religious traditions. In the past, the Church was confident and unapologetic about who she was and what she believed. Today we lay Catholics are by and large sacramentalized pagans ourselves, and our shepherds are timid bureaucrats. May God raise up some new Apostles to the pagan Europeans and Americans.