Today is the Feast of the martyr St Boniface.
In the Dark Ages and against his aristocratic family’s wishes, a young man named Winfrid renounced the world and entered a monastery. He was sent to Germany, then the eastern border of Christianity, which was struggling to survive barbarians and Islamic invaders and battling internal corruption and disunity. During a lifetime of evangelising Germany and reforming the Church, he earned from the Pope the name ‘Good Deeds’ – Boniface. He was murdered with his followers by raiders on an isolated mud flat in the Dutch-German borderlands; definitely ‘a shepherd with the smell of his sheep.’
His life and times can seem far removed from us but on a closer examination, not so.
He lived in times of cultural and societal collapse with the widespread persecution of Christians, including Islamic extremism. Boniface’s response was to live out and proclaim the Christian faith fearlessly. In just a few years, much of Germany became genuinely Christian, and the Church’s leadership began to revive.
All our readings today are by shepherds. David, the Psalmist, a shepherd in his younger years, tells us to proclaim the gospel to all the nations. Paul, the shepherd of dearly beloved groups of believers that he founded in a lifetime of mission, continues to proclaim the message en route to eventual martyrdom in Rome. As always, the ultimate example is Jesus, the shepherd who knows that the wolves are soon to arrive but stands his ground for the sake of the flock with him and those of other folds that he will lead as well.
May we, too, be faithful in the tasks that God gives us, remembering St Teresa’s words that it is not the size of the tasks that the Lord gives us but that we do them with love.