Worthy Supreme Knight and Mrs. Anderson, Msgr. Valenzano, Lord Nicholas, Lord Alton, and dear friends in Christ,
It is an honor for me and an honor for this local Church to receive here in this Oratory these precious relics: the crucifix of Saint Thomas More, and a relic of Saint Edmund Campion, a piece of the clothing wore when he travelled through England in disguise, under the assumed names of “Mr. Edmunds” or “Mr. Patrick” as he risked his life – and ultimately lost his life – in order to celebrate the Eucharistic Sacrifice and preach the Gospel of Salvation to the faithful in England.
So we offer this evening a Votive Mass of Saint Edmund Campion, even as we pray for the success of the Christian Heritage Centre at Stonyhurst College, asking God to make the work of your hands fruitful for His glory, for the furtherance of the New Evangelization and, ultimately, for the salvation of souls.
II. It is of God; It Cannot be Withstood
In the broadest terms, Edmund Campion was a young man of truly exceptional talent and intelligence. His acumen for English composition was such that, had he pursued a career in literature, we would today likely mention his name in the same breath as Shakespeare and Wordsworth. While still in his early 20s, he had already attracted the attention and the admiration of no less a personage than Queen Elizabeth I. At the time of his Baccalaureate, he took the Oath of Supremacy, and at the age of 24, he was even ordained a Deacon in the Anglican Church. His future in England, and in the Church of England, was limitless and assured.
Yet almost immediately he “he took a remorse of conscience and detestation of mind” because he knew in his heart where the truth lay. Within the space of a decade, the grace of God brought Edmund Campion from England, to Ireland, to Douai, and finally to Rome. It was settled. Campion would be a Catholic. He would be a Jesuit. He would be a priest. As he wrote, in another context, years later: “The expense is reckoned, the enterprise is begun; it is of God; it cannot be withstood. So the Faith was planted: So it must be restored.”
Or, as Msgr. Ronald Knox wrote of him, “That mathematical clearness of mind would not be content to make a sacrifice without going the whole way; he had turned his back upon fame and popularity, and he must join the novitiate which would cut him adrift most effectively from the very memory of such things. He joined the Society for what is, I suppose, the best reason for joining the Society; he read the Exercises, and they said to him, ‘This means you.’”
As a Jesuit priest in England, Campion was one of the most hunted men in the country. Having travelled around the country in disguise, wearing some of the very clothing we have with us today in this chapel, he arrested, put through a show trial, and was convicted of treason in November of 1581. With consummate self-possession, he thus answered the verdict: “In condemning us, you condemn all your own ancestors, all our ancient bishops and kings, all that was once the glory of England — the island of saints, and the most devoted child of the See of Peter.”
On the first of December of that year, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn. As the executioner dismembered his body, a drop of his blood splashed onto a young bystander, Henry Walpole. So great was the effect of that martyrdom, and of God’s grace, in the soul of Henry Walpole, that thereafter he too became a Catholic, a priest, a martyr, and a Saint. As Tertullian said in the first Christian centuries, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
III. The Grace of Conversion
Here in our chapel, there is a side shrine to another of the most distinguished sons of Catholic England, Blessed John Henry Newman. On an evening such as this, we might wonder that, just as today there would be no Saint Paul had it not been for the self-sacrifice of Saint Stephen, so too perhaps it is true that the blood of Saint Edmund Campion, and of all the English martyrs is what obtained the grace of conversion for John Henry Newman, along with untold graces still being poured out – in ways known only to God – on the heirs of the Church in England today.
So in this great work of the New Evangelization, may these heroes of the Faith intercede for all of us. And in the words of Msgr. Ronald Knox, speaking of Saint Edmund Campion: “So he came to us, in the disguise of a servant; the same disguise his Master had worn, all those years ago. And, at the beginning of Advent, they murdered him, as such Governments will. In these dark times, may his blood avail us.”