Today, we commemorate the lives of 28 Jesuit martyrs, all from
England or Wales, who died between 1573 and 1679 during the religious
persecution of Catholics in their native lands. Edmund Campion and
Robert Southwell are the two more famous members of this group of
I would bet that there are few things in life that focus a person’s
energy, wit, belief, allegiance, intelligence, heart, and effort
like a crisis, with a capital “C.” Persecution would
be like that. The experience of a common enemy would characterize
some types of crises. I wonder how that played out for Edmund, Robert,
and their companions over a hundred years.
They went about the countryside in disguise serving the Catholic
populace, hiding from authorities, alert betrayal, and committed
to their religion. They lived with the threat of death everywhere
they went, every moment of the day. In their own ways, they lived
in anticipation of “the Final Days,” the end of their
One normal reaction to being hated and hunted by enemies is to hate
and detest them. It would seem the most ordinary of all human reactions
to demonize one’s enemies, seeking to find ways to conquer,
punish, and destroy them.
I wonder what Edmund, Robert, and their companions preached to their
small congregations who kept them hidden from spies. Preaching,
as much as their martyrdom, would be written down next to their
names in the Book of Life, eh?
We do have some lines from Robert Southwell, a noted English poet
of the late 16th century. They portray the Christ of the Two Standards
Meditation (Spiritual Exercises) as a vulnerable baby come
to challenge the gates of hell, not by kingly might, but by sorrow
and suffering. I wonder if this expresses Robert’s personal
convictions and experience.
With tears He fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield,
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows, looks of weeping eyes,
His martial ensigns, cold and need,
And feeble flesh His warrior's steed.
His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall,
The crib His trench, hay-stalks His stakes,
Of shepherds He His muster makes;
And thus, as sure His foe to wound,
The angels' trumps alarum sound.
My soul, with Christ join thou in fight;
Stick to the tents that He hath pight;
Within His crib is surest ward,
This little babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.
(“New Heaven, New War” by Robert Southwell,
As we come to the end of this Church year, perhaps
the witness of Robert, Edmund, and their companions could encourage
us to attend the Standard of Christ this Christmas. Perhaps we might
be drawn to such a stance in our world of crises.