Friday, December 1, 2023

Preview: Saint Edmund Campion, SJ in Father Bowden's "Mementoes"

There are many reasons to admire, imitate and be inspired by Saint Edmund Campion, SJ: his intelligence, his courage, his care for his flock (he went back to a house to minister to the Catholics there and was thus captured), his ability to defend the teachings of the Church, and of course, his holiness, well attested by his martyrdom. 

Thus it's no surprise that Father Henry Sebastian Bowden mentions Campion 20 (twenty) times in his Mementoes of the English Martyrs and Confessors For Every Day in the Year, not counting the poem Saint Henry Walpole, SJ wrote about his mentor in martyrdom (Campion's blood splashed on Walpole and he left London to study for the priesthood and return to England as a missionary and martyr) included as an appendix ("Why do I use my paper, ynke and penne?") 

And it's no surprise that we'll look at what Father Bowden says about Campion's martyrdom in our next segment on the Son Rise Morning Show on Monday, December 4.

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at my usual time at about 6:50 a.m. Central/7:50 a.m. Eastern, the last segment in the second national hour on EWTN Radio. Please listen live here and/or catch the podcast later here.

I chose the most dramatic of the mementoes Father Bowden offers, the description of the day of Campion's martyrdom, December 1, 1581, with the title "A Sight to God and Man" because of the richness of the details in the account. As we read the description, we can try to imagine what that day was like, as though we are witnessing it:

In the splash and mud of a wet December morning, Campion was led forth from the Tower, still in his old gown of Irish frieze. Undaunted he saluted the vast crowd, saying, “God save you all, gentlemen! God bless you and make you all good Catholics!” 

Irish frieze was a coarse, woven woolen cloth, very durable, with the nap left on one side. This garment would have been stripped from Campion once his execution began. On his way to a horrible death, Campion is both undaunted and loyal to his mission as a Catholic priest: to offer blessings and good will.

After kneeling in prayer he was strapped on the hurdle, Sherwin and Briant being together bound on a second hurdle. They were dragged at the horses’ tails through the gutter and filth, followed by an insulting crowd of ministers and rabble. 

Saint Ralph Sherwin, SJ (31 years old) and Saint Alexander Briant (25 years old) had been imprisoned, tortured, and tried at the same as Campion (41 years old). They and other Catholic priests had been accused of complicity in the Rome and Reims Plot, an invention of the Court. The gutters and streets would have been wet, and dirty not just from mud but from horses' dung and other waste. That was below them; above them were insults and curses.

Still some Catholics were consoled by a word from him, and one gentleman, like Veronica on another Via Dolorosa, most courteously wiped his face all spattered with mire and filth. Passing under the arch of Newgate, whereon still stood an image of Our Lady, Campion raised himself and saluted the Queen of Heaven, whom he hoped so soon to see. 

These two gestures of honor, one to comfort Campion and the other to show devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, are moving intervals as the martyrs are drawn to brutal executions.

At the gallows he began with a sweet firm voice, “Spectaculum facti sumus Deo Angelis et hominibus,”* but the Sheriffs interrupted him, and urged him to confess his treason. He repeatedly maintained his innocence, and having declined to join in prayer with the ministers, asked all Catholics for a Credo for him in his agony, and while again professing his loyalty to the Queen he went to his reward.

Campion begins by citing the verse Father Bowden includes in this memento, from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: *“ We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.”—1 Cor. 5:9. 

In his biography of Saint Edmund Campion, Richard Simpson cited the martyr's last words:
"I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that faith have I lived, and in that faith do I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then am I guilty; as for other treason, I never committed any, God is my judge. But you have now what you desire. I beseech you to have patience, and suffer me to speak a word or two for discharge of my conscience."

He was not allowed to continue and his execution was almost another trial as he was questioned again about his loyalty to the Pope as the head of the Catholic Church and/or to the Queen of England. His final statement was:

"Wherein have I offended her? In this I am innocent. This is my last speech; in this give me credit — I have and do pray for her." Then the Lord Charles Howard asked of him for which queen he prayed, whether for Elizabeth the queen. To whom he answered, "Yea, for Elizabeth, your queen and my queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity."
Then he was stripped, hanged until barely conscious, eviscerated, beheaded, and quartered. During this agony, his blood splashed on the bystander, Henry Walpole. Then Sherwin and Briant endured the same agony. 

How long could I -- or you -- have watched it?

He and his companions, and Henry Walpole, were canonized among the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope St. Paul VI in Rome on October 25, 1970.

Saint Edmund Campion, pray for us!
Saint Ralph Sherwin, pray for us!
Saint Alexander Briant, pray for us!
Saint Henry Walpole, pray for us!

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