Monday, July 17, 2006

The Blood of the Martyrs

I’d like to continue with reflections on the martyrdom of St. Edmund Campion. There’s quite an interesting fruit of his death that I’ll mention shortly. I was going to spare you the gory details of his execution, but perhaps it is better to learn just what the saints suffered for the love of God. Here is his death sentence, which was fully carried out:

“You shall be drawn through the open city of London upon hurdles [i.e., dragged through the streets in a kind of frame attached to a horse] to the place of execution, and there be hanged and let down alive, and your privy parts cut off, and your entrails taken out and burnt in your sight; then your head is to be cut off and your body divided into four parts, to be disposed of at her Majesty’s pleasure.” This was to be done because he was a Catholic priest, in a country that also was Catholic—until recently. “In condemning us,” Campion declared at his mock trial, “you condemn all your own ancestors—all the ancient priests, 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.”

To his death he nobly proceeded, and even as he was dragged through the streets he blessed people in the crowd. Something quite amazing happened as the saint was being butchered, but I’ll let Evelyn Waugh describe it for you:

“Henry Walpole…came of a Catholic family and occasionally expressed Catholic sentiments, but until that day had kept at a discreet distance from [known Catholics], and was on good terms with authority. He was a typical member of that easy-going majority, on whom the success of the Elizabethan settlement depended, who would have preferred to live under a Catholic regime but accepted the change without very serious regret… He secured a front place at Tyburn [the place of execution]; so close that when Campion’s entrails were torn out by the butcher and thrown into the cauldron of boiling water, a spot of blood splashed upon his coat. In that moment he was caught into a new life; he crossed the sea, became a priest, and, thirteen years later, after very terrible sufferings, died the same death as Campion’s on the gallows at York. And so the work of Campion continued; so it continues. He was one of a host of martyrs, each, in their several ways, gallant and venerable…”

Henry Walpole, now Saint Henry Walpole, was canonized along with St. Edmund Campion as one of the “Forty Martyrs of England and Wales” by Pope Paul VI. It is clear from the above events how great is the power of the sacrifice of one’s life for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. A drop of the martyr’s blood carried the grace of the Holy Spirit to someone who had been more or less indifferent to the Faith, who was then immediately enkindled with zeal for the truth and for the salvation of souls, and who in turn gave his own life for Christ and his Church.

Not all have the courage to die for the Lord, but we are all called to live for Him, and to suffer whatever life brings—as an offering of thanksgiving to Him who loved us unto death, and whose love is so great that it inspires many others to make the supreme sacrifice. The blood of martyrs still flows in many places in the world today, for the advancement of the Gospel and the sanctification of souls. May we be able to see beyond the narrow confines of our own worries and pains, and look to the ever-expanding horizon of the fruitfulness of divine grace—and unhesitatingly give ourselves to God, “who has called [us] to his eternal glory” (1Peter 5:10).