Walking with the Saints
Our featured saint this week is Willibrord, who served as a missionary to the Netherlands when this part of the world was called Frisia in the Seventh Century A.D. We wouldn’t know much about Willibrord if not for the Venerable Bede’s writing of an Ecclesiastical History in the Eighth Century and for a biography of Willibrord written by a man named Alcuin.
All three of these church luminaries came from Northumbria, part of England, at about the same time.
It has been said of Willibrord that he acquired a “thirst for missionary work” while studying in Ireland for 12 years as a young man between 678 and 690 A.D. And as an even younger man, from the age of seven on, he had been educated at a monastery. One wonders if his “thirst for missionary work” didn’t arise out of a distaste for his prolonged monastic life. But I guess not, because in 698 Willibrord founded his own monastery. His monastic experience was in the midst of civil unrest and war and his missionary experience took place in a tumultuous period.
Anyone with an extended calling to either monastic life or missionary life or both would have to be possessed by a strong sense of calling. This claim of God upon the life of Willibrord carried him through over seven decades of devotion to his Lord. No wonder he is indeed a saint.
To persevere for that time period, with his world in constant uproar, was quite a challenge for Willibrord. And most of his success as a missionary to Frisia came posthumously, through the much more outwardly successful work of Boniface. Boniface had been mentored by Willibrord, and in a sense the student surpassed the teacher in the efficacy of his outreach.
The phrase “a thirst for missionary work” doesn’t say enough about Willibrord’s sense of calling.
What about our own sense of calling and our own sense of devotion to God? Is it sufficient for the tumultuous time in which we live? Does it carry us through the periods of spiritual drought which we all face from time to time? These are the questions that surface for me when I imagine the life of Willibrord. I imagine him as a persevering humble servant of God whose devotion did not depend on immediate reward or recognition. And his witness challenges my own.