Of all the saints in the Church’s history, why would we choose St. Edmund Campion as our inspiration and model?
Just a few words about him now. Edmund Campion was born in 1540 in England and established himself very early on for his remarkable intellectual gifts. He was a rising star at Oxford and there began a meteoric ascent in the public life of the kingdom, garnering the attention and favor of Queen Elizabeth herself. Through his study, prayer, and the secret solicitation of some Catholic intellectuals, however, he began to see that he could no longer continue in the Anglican Church in good conscience. He fled the country and joined the Society of Jesus (AKA The Jesuits) and helped found a school for missionaries in Douai, France (the origin of the famed Douai-Rheims translation of the Bible). There, he trained English missionaries to return to England and face almost certain capture, torture, and execution at the hands of the state, all for the sake of winning their homeland back to the Faith of their Fathers. Inevitably, he was eventually captured and executed on what is now his feast day, December 1st of 1581.
What attracted our attention to St. Edmund Campion was a book written by another great Englishman, the unparalleled novelist, Evelyn Waugh. Waugh wrote what I consider to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, Brideshead Revisited. His biography of Campion is among the best books on the life of a saint that I have ever read, and, true confession, I don’t like very many books on lives of the saints (a future post will give recommendations for biographies of saints that we have found helpful!). This one reads like a spy thriller of the highest caliber and will keep you on the edge of your seat as Campion and his Jesuit missionaries clandestinely sneak through hill and vale of England preaching sermons, administering the sacraments to secret Catholics, and evading the Queen’s priest-hunters.
This book is amazing, inspiring, and thrilling. I strongly recommend that you check it out HERE.
Okay, so why, to answer the question, does this particular saint inspire us here and now? There are a few reasons I can think of:
- Campion was zealous for what he knew was the truth, even when it was contrary to overwhelming popular opinion. With all the developments in our culture (both recent and enduring) we feel a connection to Campion’s desire to defend the truth, especially when it’s unpopular to do so.
- Campion defends what he knows to be the truth not through anger or vitriol but through calm rational discourse rooted in charity, even when he knew the other side would likely rather kill him than argue at all. He argues with his opponents not out of a desire to prove himself right and establish his intellectual supremacy, but because he loves them with the love that Jesus has for them and he wants to save them from error. He proves this by offering them his life for the sake of their salvation. There are a lot of people writing who can say things that are true in themselves but pretty clearly aren’t speaking with charity as their motive. We want to take Campion as a model of the truth that it isn’t enough to be right, we have to speak the truth in love or we are, as St. Paul puts it, “a noisy gong.”
- Campion is a patriotic saint. When his nation had gone astray, he didn’t throw up his arms in disgust, but actually loved his homeland enough to return to his native country so that he could be part of the solution. He did this with total confidence in the power of Christ to overcome all obstacles, even if he should fail. There are a lot of good people who are (understandably) fed up with the way things are going in our culture. Campion serves as an excellent model for us that love of country (patriotism) is a virtue and it isn’t optional. Giving up on their homeland is not something that Christians can do, even if it means they have to be, in the words of another great English martyr, Thomas More, “The King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
With all the talk about various “options” for how to live our faith in the present cultural climate, may we humbly suggest trying to imitating this great saint with us?
St. Edmund Campion, Pray for us!
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