Friday, April 24, 2015

St.Mellitus: Catching Flies With Honey

         There's an old saying that you catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than you do with a vat of vinegar.  I couldn't help but think of that old saw when considering the life of today's Saint, Mellitus of Canterbury (died April 24th, A.D. 624), whose name in fact means "honeyed".  We see in his mission to convert the Saxon conquerers of Britain in the 7th century (he was sent by Pope Gregory the Great to assist St. Augustine of Canterbury) an example of the Church explicitly choosing to put the "Honey Strategy" into practice.

St. Mellitus of Canterbury

     But first, we need a little background on Saint Mellitus.  Despite being little-known today, he was in fact a very consequential Saint. Mellitus first arrived in Britain in the year A.D. 601, bringing with him books and other things considered necessary for Christian instruction and worship.  St. Augustine consecrated him Bishop of London, which at that time was the capital of the East Saxon kingdom.  Somewhere around the years 616-618 the Christian East Saxon king died, after which Mellitus was driven from his episcopal see in London; shortly thereafter the Christian king of Kent died as well, and Mellitus was forced to flee from Britain all together, although he was able to return a few years later after Laurence, Augustine's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, had converted the new Kentish king.  Mellitus never returned to London, which would not see a Bishop again until 654, thirty years after the Saint's death.  St. Mellitus himself became Archbishop of Canterbury at the Death of Laurence in 619, and occupied the see until his own passing five years later.  He is credited with miraculously saving his church from a fire shortly before his death.
     St. Mellitus played an important part in the conversion of the English ; in this capacity he received instructions in the form of a letter from the Pope, called the Epistola ad Mellitum. In this letter St. Gregory urges Mellitus and Augustine to rely on persuasion in converting the pagan English, destroying idols but consecrating the temples that housed the idols for use as churches, and adapting pagan practices to Christian uses so that the English nation might "set aside error from her heart, and, acknowledging and adoring the True God, might assemble more familiarly at the places which she was was accustomed (to use)."  This letter is a particularly explicit statement of an approach that has been more or less the rule (albeit with some notable exceptions) for most of the history of the Church (which I explain in more detail in my Halloweeen post, "Christ Is King Of All . . . Even The Holidays").  And it fits well with the way our Lord works: God breathed life into the mud of the earth to create Adam, and through baptism he makes former non-believers into his adopted sons and daughters; why can't his Church "baptize " what is good in pagan societies and consecrate it for use in His service?
     I think the story of St. Mellitus and his "honeyed" approach has a lesson for us today as we go about our own missions of evangelization.  I know how frustrated I can become when someone just can't, or won't, listen; I find myself brimming over with vinegar, as it were.  I've found that if I stay calm, listen patiently, and try to focus on the love of Jesus (in other words, spread a little honey), I'm more likely to have a fruitful exchange.  St. Mellitus, pray for us, that we might avoid the bitterness of our own pride, and to speak with the sweetness of Divine Love. Amen.