Today is the feast day of one of my most favorite saints, St. Edmund Campion!
Imagine for a second that Catholicism is suddenly outlawed in Mexico. All the priests are arrested. All the nuns sent home and their convents turned into public parks and public schools. Overnight, it become illegal to attend Mass, to go to Confession or to baptize your child. What would you do?
Under King Henry VIII, that same situation happened to England. England use to be as Catholic as it's neighbor Ireland. (Remember St. Patrick was a Brit who actually converted the Irish Celts.) There were many, many famous English martyrs. Many devote Catholics in the land. Even King Henry himself got the title "defender of the Faith" from the Pope.
The serpent bit King Henry through the sin of adultery and world turned upside down for English Catholics. After years of bloody struggle, the Catholic faith was surpressed.
Enter St. Edmund Campion!
Edmund's family converted to Protestantism early, and he was raised as an Angelican Catholic. He had a brilliant career at Oxford. He was the darling student who was chosen to give a special welcome speech to King Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth I. She was amazed at his intelligence, charm and good looks. She told Edmund he could name his cabinet post in her church and her government.
But Edmund had a problem.
The more he studied the roots of English Protestantism, the more his soul became troubled. The more he studied the great Catholic doctors of the Church, the more he felt that the Roman Catholic Church of Rome was the true church of Christ.
What to do?
He consulted the best theological minds at Oxford. He asked one of his friends, "How can you be an expert in St. Ambrose and St. Augustine and still be an Anglican priest?" The friend answered "If I believed in these saints as well as I read them, I would indeed be in trouble. But since I don't, I'm fine!"
St. Edmund was not fine. He left Oxford. He left England. He handed his soul over to God and became a Jesuit priest. He was trained in special seminary overseas designed to train priests to help reconvert England to the Catholic faith.
After receiving Holy Orders, St. Edmund at once raced back to his homeland. His heart bleed for the Catholics who were suffering terrible pains of conscious under an oppressive ruler and who had no one to guide them. St. Edmund went from house to house in secrecy. He heard confession for hours. He soothed the fears of the few elderly priests who were still locked in jail. He celebrated Mass, baptized babies and regularized marriages.
He saved souls.
St. Edmund knew that he risked death. He demonstrated heroic courage. He wrote "a brag" to tell the Queen exactly why he was coming to England, not to have a political revolution, but a peaceful, moral revolution of the heart. He even said he hoped to convert his Queen's heart as well.
He truly loved his enemies. He says "If these my offers be refused, and my endeavours can take no place, and I, having run thousands of miles to do you good, shall be rewarded with rigour. I have no more to say but to recommend your case and mine to Almighty God, the Searcher of Hearts, who send us his grace, and see us at accord before the day of payment, to the end we may at last be friends in heaven, when all injuries shall be forgotten."
(Read his entire brag, it will make you cry!)
Queen Elizabeth was not pleased. After 2 years, St. Edmund was found. He was sentenced to death. As St. Edmund was being pulled to his execution spot, he saw one single statue of the Virgin Mary that the Protestants had not smashed to bits. He saluted Our Mother as he passed.
On December 1, 1581, St. Edmund was hanged, drawn, and quartered at Tyburn, London, England and parts of his body were displayed at the city gates as a warning to other Catholics.
St. Edmund Campion, pray for us!
(For more information on this wonderful saint I highly recommend reading Eveyln Waugh's biography entitled Edmund Campion).