May 14, 2021: ST. BONIFACE OF TARSUS
May 14, 2021: COMMEMORATION OF ST. BONIFACE (OF TARSUS), MARTYR
The Angels rejoiced more at thy conversion, Boniface, than at the fidelity of the ninety-nine just; but their joy was redoubled, when they found that heaven gained, in thee, not only a Penitent, but a Martyr too. Receive, also, the congratulations of holy Church, which celebrates the memory of thy victory.
Grant, we beseech thee, O Almighty God, that we who celebrate the festival of blessed Boniface, thy Martyr, may by his prayers, find the effects of thy divine assistance. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in unity of the Holy Ghost, God, World without end. Amen.
The Apostle of the Gentiles, explaining the mystery of the Pasch, tells us, that Baptism is the sepulchre of our sins, and that we rise from it together with our Redeemer, having our souls radiant with the life of grace (Rom, vi.). Our holy Faith teaches us, that he who gives his life for Christ or his Church, washes away, in his own blood, every stain from his soul, and rises to life everlasting: it is as though he received a second Baptism, which reproduces all the effects belonging to the great Sacrament of Regeneration. We have, to-day, a sinner, who being purified by Martyrdom and rebaptised in his own blood, is numbered among the privileged ones who share in the glory of our Risen Jesus. Boniface, by his immoralities, had scandalised the city where he lived; but his repentance was most complete. He longed to suffer the crudest tortures for the love of the God he had offended, and thus make atonement for the sinful pleasures in which he had indulged. His wish was granted; suffering transformed him into the Saint, whose Feast is kept on this day, and whose virtues are a homage to the Divine Conqueror of sin and death.
Holy Church thus commemorates, in her Office, the bravery of this generous-hearted Martyr.
Boniface was a citizen of Rome, and had held criminal intercourse with a rich lady, by name Aglaë. He afterwards was so grieved for this immoral conduct, that, by way of penance, he devoted himself to the looking for and burying the bodies of Martyrs. In one of his travels, he left his companions; and finding, on arriving at Tarsus, that many were being put to divers tortures for the Christian Faith, he approached them, kissed their chains, and did all in his power to urge them to bear patiently the short labour of sufferings which were to be followed by eternal rest. For this he was seized, and his flesh was torn by iron hooks. Sharp reeds were also thrust up his finger-nails, and melted lead was poured into his mouth. His only exclamation, in the midst of these tortures, was: “I give thee thanks, Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God!”
He was then put, head foremost, into a cauldron of boiling pitch; and when he was taken out, and found to be unhurt, the judge, in a fit of anger, ordered him to be beheaded. During his execution, a great earthquake was felt; whereupon, many of the pagans were converted to the Faith of Christ our Lord. On the day following, his companions, who were in search of him, were told that he had suffered martyrdom. They bought his body for five hundred pieces of silver; and having embalmed and shrouded it, they had it taken to Rome. All this was made known, by an Angel, to Aglaë, who had also devoted herself to penance and good works. She, therefore, went to meet the Martyr's relics. She built a Church, which was named after the Saint, and in which he was buried on the Nones of June (June 5th). The Martyr's soul passed into heaven on the day before the Ides of May (May 14th), at Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, under the Emperors Dioclesian and Maximian.
Another account of St. Boniface (of Tarsus), Martyr.
About A.D. 307
There lived at Rome, about the beginning of the fourth century, a certain lady called Aglaë, young, beautiful, and well born, and so rich and fond of making a figure in the world, that she had entertained the city three several times with public shows at her own charge. Her chief steward was one Boniface, with whom she entertained a criminal commerce. This man, though addicted to wine and all kinds of debauchery, was however remarkable for three good qualities, hospitality, liberality, and compassion. Whensoever he saw a stranger or traveller, he would assist him very cordially; and he used to go about the streets, and into the public places in the night time, and relieved the poor according to their necessities. After several years commerce in the vicious way already mentioned, Aglaë, touched with a motion of divine grace, and feeling some compunction within herself, called Boniface to her, and thus opened her mind to him: “You are sensible how deep we are plunged in vice, without reflecting that we must appear before God to give an account of all our actions. I have heard say, that they who honour those that suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ, shall have a share in their glory. In the East the servants of Jesus Christ every day suffer torments, and lay down their lives for his sake. Go thither then, and bring me the relicks of some of those conquerors, that we may honour their memories, and be saved by their assistance.” Boniface came into the proposal; and having raised a considerable sum of money to purchase the bodies of the martyrs from their executioners, and to distribute among the poor, said to Aglaë on his departure: “I wont fail to bring back with me, the relicks of martyrs, if I find any; but what if my own body should be brought to you for that of a martyr?” She reproved him for jesting in a matter so serious. The steward set out, but was now entirely a new man. Penetrated with sentiments of compunction, in all that long journey from Rome into the East, he neither eat meat nor drank wine; and his fasts he accompanied with prayers, tears, and penitential works. The church at that time enjoyed peace in the West, but in the East, the persecution which had been begun by Dioclesian, was carried on with great cruelty by Galerius Maximianus and Maximinus Daie. It raged most fiercely in Cilicia, under an inhuman governor named Simplicius. Boniface therefore directed his journey to Tarsus, the capital of that country. He no sooner arrived at the city, but alighting, he sent away all his servants with the horses to an inn, and went himself straight to the court of the governor, whom he found seated on his tribunal, and many holy martyrs suffering under their tortures: one hanged up by the feet, with his head over a fire: another stretched almost to the tearing of his limbs on four planks or stakes: a third sawn asunder: a fourth had his hands cut off: a fifth was fixed to the ground by a stake run through his neck: a sixth having his hands and feet tied behind him, the executioners were beating him with clubs. There were no less than twenty tortured after this cruel manner, the sight whereof shocked the beholders, while, their courage and resolution filled them with amazement. Boniface went boldly up to these champions of Christ, and having saluted them, cried out: “Great is the God of the Christians, great is the God of the holy martyrs. I beseech you the servants of Jesus Christ to pray for me that I may join with you in fighting against the devil.” The governor thought himself insulted by so bold an action in his presence, and asked him in great wrath, who he was. The martyr answered, that he was a Christian, and that having Jesus Christ for his master, he feared nothing the governor could inflict to make him renounce that sacred name. Simplicius, in a rage, ordered some reeds to be sharpened and thrust under his nails: and this being done, he commanded boiling lead to be poured into his mouth. Boniface, after having called upon Jesus Christ for his assistance, begged the prayers of the other expiring martyrs, who all joined in putting up their petitions to God for him. The people, disgusted with so much cruelty, began to raise a tumult, and cried out: “Great is the God of the Christians.” Simplicius was alarmed, and withdrew. But the next day, being seated on his tribunal, he ordered Boniface to be brought before him a second time. The martyr appeared constant and undaunted. The judge commanded him to be cast into a caldron of boiling pitch; but he came out without receiving any hurt. Lastly, he was condemned to lose his head; and after a short prayer for the pardon of his sins, and the conversion of his persecutors, he cheerfully presented his neck to the executioner. His companions in the mean time not finding him return to the inn, searched for him in those parts of the city where they thought him most likely to be found. Being at last informed by the jailer’s brother, that a stranger had been beheaded the day before for his faith in Christ, and being shewn the dead body and the head, they assured him that it was the very person they were in search of, and beseeched him to bestow the martyr's relicks upon them; this he refused to do without a reward: so they paid down five hundred pieces of gold; and having embalmed it, carried it home with them, praising God for the happy end of the blessed martyr. Aglaë, upon information of the affair, gave God thanks for his victory, and taking some priests with her, met the corpse with tapers and perfumes half a mile out of Rome, on the Latin road; and in that very place raised a monument in which she laid them, and some years after built a chapel. She from that time led a penitential retired life, and dying fifteen years after, was buried near his relicks. They were found in Rome in 1603, together with those of St. Alexius, in the church in Rome formerly called of Saint Boniface, but now of St. Alexius. The bodies of both Saint Boniface and St. Alexius lie under the stately high altar in two rich marble tombs. The martyrdom of St. Boniface happened about the year 307.
Whilst we praise the divine mercy, who of sinners maketh saints, we ought earnestly to pray that he change our hearts from vessels of corruption into vessels of grace and his divine charity. Regret and sorrow for sin has many degrees; but till it has entirely subdued the corruptions, changed the affections, and purified the heart, it is not a saving repentance, or that charity and love which animates or impregnates the new creature. The certain proof of regeneration or of a real conversion is victory. He that is born of God, overcometh the world (I St. John, v. 4). The maxims of the gospel, the rules of the church, and reason itself forbid us to look upon him as a sincere convert whose life is very uneven, unconstant, and contradictory to itself; if he be today a saint, and tomorrow a sinner; if he follow today the impulses of the Holy Ghost, and yield tomorrow to the temptations of the enemy; or if he has not courage to fly the dangers and renounce the occasions which are fatal to him.
Taken from: The Liturgical Year - The Paschal Time, Vol. II, Dublin, Edition 1871;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. V, 1821; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume II, 1806.
St. Boniface of Tarsus, pray for us.