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Friday, January 22, 2016

Come, My Love: An Analysis of Thomas Merton’s Mystical Poem “Pass Through My Will”


   Thomas Merton’s poem “Pass through My Will” takes the reader on a deeply mystical journey through layers upon layers of spiritual significance. At the same time, it captures the simplicity of a folk song and the heart-felt purity of a romantic ballad. The musical accompaniment by John Michael Talbot broadens its beauty even further and makes it sing out from the soul. I have endeavored to write down some of my own reflections on it, and hope that your own individual musings may add to them when you read the poem included at the end.  

     The mood of the poem is set by the opening invitation, “Come, my love…” We are introduced to a relationship with our Creator that is the pinnacle of intimacy and desire. The words recall the prayer “Veni Sancti Spiritus”, asking the Holy Spirit to visit us with his purifying fire and enkindle with us the flame of love. The following request to “pass through my will as through a window” courts a total giving by laying down one’s own self for the light of the sun to penetrate, gently yet powerfully, so that lover and beloved may be transformed into one another.  

    This sacrifice of will highlights the subtle Marian undercurrent of the poem. At the visitation of the Angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary chose to surrender her own will so that God could truly “penetrate” her with His light in a singularly astonishing may, causing the Word Made Flesh to enter into history when the Spirit overshadowed her. It also brings to mind the long-held Catholic tradition that birth of Christ, in addition to His conception, took place in a miraculous manner, as light passing through glass, thus enabling Our Lady to forego the pains of childbirth. 

     In the first verse, the poet compares himself to the grass “to be consumed by the rays of the sun.” This burns with a fiery longing for an encounter with a lover. Not just any lover…but the Seed of all Love, the Answer of all Longing. There is the heat and freshness of youthful eagerness “in the late summer’s morning”, running barefoot through a grassy meadow with reckless abandon. And yet it is not aggressive like a beast, but spontaneous like the flow of a river. It is natural in the Bosom of Nature. As the grass depends upon the light of the sun for its very existence, so we depend upon the light of the Son for ours.     

     The poem is particularly striking in its reclamation of sexuality as a sacred, life-giving, unifying expression of a greater spiritual love radiating from within. In Celtic tradition, it is said that the soul is not so much within the body as the body is within the soul, an aura of light that encompasses our beings. At the same time, our “clay homes” serve as instruments of making manifest the deeper movements of the heart. That is why marriage is such a highly honored sacrament in Christianity, and weddings so gloriously celebrated. The physical is only a small fragmentary glimpse of the spiritual unity which this poem celebrates. And yet even that fragment is worthy of honor within the bonds of a sacramental, life-long commitment.  

     Interestingly, Catholic tradition has had a multi-faceted understanding of “spiritual sexuality” as it were. While physical relations are certainly the norm in married life, there was also a deeper understanding that people are called to a variety of different walks in life, and virginal marriage was also an option, as in the case of St. Cecelia, who had taken a vow of perpetual chastity along with her spouse. Nevertheless, her relationship with her husband Valerian was nothing short of rivetingly romantic, as he was spiritually awakened the purity of her voice, and she would go on to sacrifice her life in order to attend his grave. Similarly, in religious and single vocations, the concept of spiritual union was just as intense and real as any romantic experiences could be. There is a universal romance to which every human being is called to: the Marriage of the Soul to its Source.

     With this understanding, the poem calls for the coming of the Divine Lover, as “all through the night I lay longing, eagerly to wait for love’s union”. There is no shame in this, but rather a reveling in the anticipation as it was meant to be before perversion and misuse debased it. The Divine Bridegroom is being called upon by His bride the Church. The night can be seen both as the time before the coming of Christ, waiting for the coming of the Messiah. It can also be seen as our own present time, awaiting his second coming when love between God and His people will be “consummated in the light.” In a personal context, it can also be seen as every person’s own inner demons, their “dark night of the soul”, as so eloquently described by St. John of the Cross during his years of persecution and imprisonment.  It is in the depths of doubt and despair that our yearning for the light becomes most keen. We yearn for it to cut through the veil of night like a piercing sword of the dawn.  

    And so we wait “as dawn’s flower awaits for the wedding with the sun.” This brings to mind the fact that flowers turn towards the light of the sun and open their petals to receive it. But in a deeper sense, it speaks of the essence of the dawn that cannot be seen, the stream of all being and reality brought to light by the sun. It also brings to mind the wedding feast at Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle by turning the water jugs into the best wine at his mother’s request. Interestingly, the Pagan world had long associated wine with fertility, and their gods of the grape vines commonly doubled as gods of the marriage bed. In this act of Christ, we not only see His honor of his mother (the woman whose body gave him life through God-given fertility) but also of marriage and procreation in general, as well as the celebration of life. Lastly, it calls to mind the experiences of the great saints, such as St. Catherine of Sienna, who experienced visions of a mystical marriage to Christ, and a ring encrusted with blood-jewels, like the blood-red wounds of the Bridegroom.        

     The poem goes on to explain that the light is in fact “stealing my heart as a secret.” Again, there is a beautiful level of intimacy and gentility here, for just as the Creation of the World was brought into being by a Word, so we can imagine a secret being whispered to us in a passing breeze the travels “under the moments, crossing time”, something so beautiful it takes our breaths away. It is the Great Secret for which we all seek, that knowing that catches us up in the celestial spiral dance of eternity. The line also brings to the fore the subtle vulnerability of love. When we open our hearts to another, we always risk having them broken. And yet that risk is the very ground-work of all that is worthy of experiencing and embracing. We want our hearts to be stolen away, for they were never meant to be for us alone, but for the Other. The homonym of “stealing” also comes to mind, in that the light is also “steeling” the heart, making it stronger for the trials to come.  

     The language of the poem begins to take a slightly darker turn. The light of the divine is also portrayed as a thing of great aloneness, perhaps even a cause for despair, for like the Rich Young Man, we are being asked to give all the we hold dear in exchange. We abandon our creature comforts and face ourselves as we truly are in order to face the One who gave us our very being on our own. We become “a vanishing form that leaves no shadows.” Like Moses, our faces have been bleached white by “I Am Who Am.” There is no hiding, no shielding, no shying away from the light. It is all-consuming and all-encompassing, stripping away all that is unnecessary and penetrating to the bare essence of our soul. We find ourselves “exposed naked, alone, between the heavens and the earth”, crossed between comfort and discomfort, twisted in both agony and ecstasy like St. Teresa of Avila being pierced by the angel’s dart.  

     Nakedness holds many symbolic meanings. One is naked before a physician seeking to cure the maladies of the body, appropriate as we encounter Yeshua, the Great Physician, who walked among men with His healing hand extended with mercy towards those in physical and spiritual need. One is naked before a lover in the act of union and procreation, but also naked in a spiritual sense in emotional bonding, which indicates a depth of truth and love that transcends the merely physical and enraptures the heart. Before the Great Lover, we find ourselves comfortable in our own flesh once more, just as we were in the innocence of Eden when the wind of the Spirit brushed against the branches…and we felt it

     But yet again, comfort contrasts with discomfort, for our stark nakedness before God also implies isolation This ultimate act of love in which we yearn to immerse ourselves in is also an embrace of pain and humiliation, of bitter wind against exposed flesh, of the wood of a tree so like the tree of Eden…the only thing strong enough to counteract it. And if we are to be Lover and Beloved, we must be prepared to suffer with Him on that cross, naked as He was naked, mocked and scorned and spat upon. It is agony. It is ecstasy. It is forsakenness. It is the eye of the storm of Love. Rejection and loneliness inevitably draw us closer to the fruit of Golgotha and the wine of the mystical wedding feast, “lifted high on the cross with the savior.”      

    Again, Our Lady comes to mind, standing beneath the wood of the cross like Eve, the mother of all humanity, had once stood before her tree of blessing and curse the set into motion such a story and brought forth such a savior. In this instant, Mary undergoes the pains of labor which may have passed her by in the stable, birthing the Universal Church and becoming a Mother for all of its members and of humanity as a whole, represented by the young John, holding her erect in her own agony. Pinioned to the cross, this naked exposure also be found in the Body of Christ exposed in the Eucharist, those physical elements lent to him by the body of his mother. Received within our own bodies, we truly enter into “love’s union” in the deepest of ways. 

     The next profound paradox we encounter is the “life-giving tomb, prepared through the night for dawn’s dying.” Again, there is the reference to the dawn, linked closely with the homonyms of “sun” and “Son”. In the aftermath of the consummation of love on the cross, having poured out his very essence for the beloved, Christ is laid to rest. His sleeping place is the tomb, which serves as a second womb from which He will be reborn and with Him “a child, New Jerusalem.” In essence, all of us will join him in that act of rising. The Old Covenant has passed over into the New, and the wine of redemption is about to be poured into new wine skins. 

     There is also the reference to the moon, which guides us through the night. This can be seen as yet another Marian allegory, as the moon is the ultimate “star of the sea”, commanding the tides of the ocean. The moon also commonly represents the female compliment to the male sun. Also, Lady Moon reflects the glory of Lord Sun and leads us to the break of dawn, as the Virgin Mary directs us to her Son, and guides us across the  Veil of Tears. Mythologically, stars are sometimes referred to as “tears of the moon”, which also can be seen as a reference to water and the sea. The moon can also be seen as the bride of Christ, representing all of us, the Church. This hearkens back another mythology: how the Sun loved the Moon so dearly, that he died every night to allow her to draw breath.  

    But the sting of death never holds full sway. The light is coming; the darker the night is, the sooner it comes. Nature teaches us this is the cold embrace of winter, when the longest night of the solstice heralds the return of the sun. So it is with Christmas, a celebration of the light coming into the darkness. Perhaps it only now, at the cross and at the tomb, that we realize fully that the darkness could not know the light. Yet still the light could not be conquered. In the crux of defeat, victory is born. Like the darkness of Mary’s womb, the tomb prepares for “the rebirth of a child, New Jerusalem.” And so we welcome the light into our life, and shimmer like the rainbow of prisms cast through the stained-glass windows of our souls.  

     At the end of the poem, the paradox is brought full circle with the line: “I like the grass to be washed by the rains of the sun.” Once again this brings to mind a symbolic nakedness, necessary for bathing and cleansing in the waters of eternal life. It also brings to mind the rejuvenating freshness of a bath after having traveled on a long journey, the Royal Road of the Cross. But unlike the earlier reference to “consuming”, the use of “washing” also provides a gentler contrast that harkens back to our own gentle rebirth at the sacrament of Baptism.  

     As with all romances, the intensity has been mellowed (and also perhaps matured) with time, and yet it has also been rejuvenated by experiencing the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. We have been drained of our egoism and purified by the fires of Divine Love, transformed and reawakened as spiritual beings. But now, instead of the tension of young passions, we have found balance and equilibrium. Lover and beloved have been joined, and flow together in harmony like a stream of sanctifying grace, or matching footprints on the sands of time and eternity.
 

 

Come, my love,
Pass through my will
As through a window
Shine on my life
As on a meadow
I like the grass to be consumed
By the rays of the sun
On a late summer’s morning
 
Come, my love,
All through the night
I lay longing
Eagerly to wait
For love’s union
Like dawn’s flower awaits
For the wedding with the sun
Consummated in the light
 
Your light, my love,
Is stealing my heart
As a secret
I’m left
Like a vanishing form
That leaves no shadows
Exposed naked, alone
Between the heavens and the earth
Lifted high on the cross with the Savior
 
O life-giving tomb,
Prepared through the night
For dawn’s dying
Like a moon
Like the mansions of heaven
Await the rebirth of a child
New Jerusalem
So come to my life, Light of Heaven
 
Come, my love,
Pass through my will
As through a window
Shine on my life
As on a meadow
I like the grass to be washed
By the rays of the sun
On the late summer’s morning
 
"Come to my life, Light of Heaven..."
    

 

   

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas 2015!!!

May the Christ Child fill your lives with the abundant life of His Divine Grace in the coming year and always, and may you ever be under the protection of the Holy Family! The following poem, I wrote from the perspective of Mary, traveling to Bethlehem with the blessed babe in her womb.



"Womb of the Universe"

Hush, my child, sleep in safety
Darkness shows that mother’s near
All surrounding love and safety
Mother’s song dispels all fear
Hush, my child, in the silence
Feel the beat of mother’s heart
Though the universal longing
Soon shall pierce it with a dart
 -
Hush, my child, on the journey
Far from home, a star shall lead;
Soul of Starlight burns within me,
Yet the mighty pay no heed
 -
Hush, my child, Breath of Heaven
Come to take its breath from me
In the chilling dead of winter,
May you warm and sheltered be
 -
Hush, my child, helpless infant,
Flow of Life and All that is,
Come to earth where least expected…
What will mark the end of this?
 -
O, my child, hope of prophets,
Can the darkness know your light?
Darkness not of mother’s body
Nor the stillness of the night…
 -
Darkness borne of Man’s own freedom
Blinding them to their own souls
Evil snuffing out the starlight,
Fire dying on the coals
 -
Darkness fears the breaking sunlight,
Darkness would suppress the Son
Beat Him, mock Him, strip His glory,
The many launched against the One
 -
Sleep, my child, in the darkness,
Sleep within your mother’s womb,
Chalice bearing blood I’ve given
And bones to lie within the tomb
-
But darkness cannot last eternal
With every dying comes rebirth
From out of darkness you are coming
A lumination to the earth
 -
Sleep, my child, rest in safety
From womb and tomb, you shall arise
Our hearts shall beat as one forever
No death can unbind that which ties
 
"Hush, my child, sleep in safety..."
 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Diamond of England: The Mission and Martyrdom of St. Edmund Campion

  St. Edmund Campion first became a major part of my life when I was assigned to read Edmund Campion: Hero of God's Underground by Harold C. Gardiner, S.J. I was in 4th Grade at the time and already fascinated by England thanks to my earlier love-affair with Robin Hood. But the story of Fr. Campion opened up a whole new dimension of interest for me. The Forty Martyrs of England and Wales became my role-models for both their heroism and humanity, and the somewhat swashbuckling nature of Edmund Campion especially captured my imagination. This was a saint with sparkle; this was a man with know-how; this was the cream of Catholic England.

    Edmund Campion was born on January 24, 1540, the son of a London book-seller on Paternoster Row near St. Paul’s Cathedral. Perhaps it was partly due to being reared among books that young Edmund was instilled with a love of learning early on. He become a star pupil at Christ Hospital School, at age 13, when the Catholic Queen Mary I came to make a visit to the city in August of 1553, he was chosen to deliver an welcome address to her.  He went on to win a scholarship to St. John’s College in Oxford, becoming a junior fellow by 1557.

     In 1560, he received his B.A. Degree, and since there was a new Protestant monarch, Queen Elizabeth I, he was made to take the Oath of Supremacy acknowledging her as Head of the Church in England. Even though he had been raised loosely Catholic and maintained High Church sympathies beneath the surface, he nevertheless ascribed to mandatory procedure. His future was far too promising to abandon a world of opportunity on a point of conscience, certainly this early in the game. So In 1564, he took a master’s degree in Oxford.

    This self-made-man who had risen from the London middle class had high ideals and far-reaching ideas, which inspired him to write several discourses on his vision for a perfect student and Renaissance man. He insisted this was not just a matter of learning but also one of virtue, embracing the Catholic scholastic model to the fullest. A true scholar, he insisted, should always be pious modest, kind, obedient, and graceful in his deportment and manners. He should be  respectful to his superiors, generous to his equals, and helpful to his subordinates, He should keep his mind “subtle, hot and clear, his memory happy, his voice flexible, sweet and sonorous, his walk and all his motions lively, gentlemanly, and subdued.” 

    In the course of his studies, he believed a student should master the English tongue, learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and cultivate his skills at writing and oration. This should proceed into learning rhetoric and debate, ethics and politics, as well as the classical logic applied by Aristotle and Plato. He should also master all histories, ancient and modern, to learn from them and better serve the present need. Campion also insisted on a study of mathematics, astronomy, and the natural sciences, so that students might deserve the title of “oracle of nature.” But in addition to all this, he also insisted that true scholar should be well-rounded in his pursuits, learning to paint, play the lute, sing at sight, write music, and delve into the arts.    

    Needless to say, Campion was completely in his element in the atmosphere of learning and culture that was Oxford, and he charmed everyone with his brilliant intellect and vivacious delivery, including Queen Elizabeth I who came to visit the university in 1566 and were welcomed by a speech from him. He was also selected to conduct debates for royal observation. By the end of the visit, he had not only earned the favor of the Queen but also of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, one of Elizabeth’s favorite suitors. In addition, he could count upon patronage of William Cecil, the Queen’s Chief Advisor who described him as “one of the diamonds of England.”

    Life had much to offer for a young scholar in his 20’s, and Campion soon found himself gaining the admiration and idolization of many Oxford pupils, who crowded to attend his lectures, mimicked his hand gestures, figures of speech, and even smart choice of attire. This college clique proudly donned themselves “The Campionists". He used this influence this encourage his pupils to better themselves “Proceed with the same pains and toil,” he counseled one student, “bury yourself in your books, complete your course, keep your mind on the stretch, strive for the prizes which you deserve. Only persevere, do not degenerate from what you are nor suffer the keen eye of your mind to grow dark and rusty.”

    Campion could have gone on to enjoy the comfortable life of an Anglican clergyman, and even took Holy Orders as a deacon in the Church of England. But his inquiring mind would not allow him to forget the faith of his childhood altogether, even if he had never before taken it to heart. His forays into the works of the Early Church Fathers led him to believe that the authority of Christ had indeed been passed down to St. Peter and thenceforth all the Bishops of Rome. He could not accept that the fullness of the faith had been hidden upwards of 500 years, only to revealed suddenly to a select group of Englishmen in his own d ay. It defied his logical mind. As time went on, he found himself drawn more and more to the teachings Catholic Church in all their depth and complexity, but still resisted acting upon his own religious inclinations. He knew only too well the penalty that awaited "seditious papists" and was unwilling and unready to abandon all his worldly gains in a single swipe.

    Determined to silence his conscience, Campion dodged several attempts to get him to debate in favor of Anglican doctrines and travelled to Ireland to tutor Richard Stanihurst, the son of a conservative-minded friend in Dublin, James Stanyhurst, who was a Speaker in the Irish House of Commons. While Campion was there, he wrote a heavily biased book on the history of Ireland (proving just how much of an Englishman he really was!) under the very generic alias “Mr. Patrick” and dedicated it to his old patron, the Earl of Leicester. In the preface, he wrote gushily:

     “There is none that knoweth me familiarly, but he knoweth withal how many ways I have been beholden to your lordship…How often at Oxford, how often at the Court…how by reports, you have not ceased to further with advice, and to countenance with authority the hope and expectation of me, a single student…Thirteen years to have lived in the eye and special credit of a prince, yet never during all that space to have bused this ability to any man’s harm; to be enriched with no man’s overthrow, to be kindled neither with grudge nor emulation, to benefit an infinite resort of daily suitors…these are indeed the kernels for which the shell of your nobility seemeth fair and sightly…This is the substance which maketh you worthy of the ornaments wherewith you are attired. ”

     But perhaps these overflowing sensations of warmth and fuzziness were something of an insecure reaction to Campion’s increasingly tenuous position among the establishment.  Although initially anti-Catholic feeling in Ireland had been barely perceptible, things were rapidly changing. The rebellion of the Northern Earls in England in the winter of 1569, combined with the unrest in Scotland between the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots and her Protestant nobles, made the religious dividing lines more apparent. In 1570, the Papal Bull clumsily excommunicating Elizabeth and relieving her subjects of allegiance only succeeded in fuelling the fires against all Catholics, even those who had no desire to be relieved of their allegiance to the Queen at all. Priests became instantly identified as traitors, and Catholics as political agents of Rome. It was a medieval political ploy launched by the papacy to reign in an increasingly hopeless situation in England, and it back-fired miserably.

     As the radical Protestants began to crack down on the Emerald Isle, Campion came under suspicion yet again, and had to furtively flee to country. But before his ship could even set sail, it was searched by the militant authorities, and his belongings were ransacked and subsequently confiscated, including the text of his History of Ireland. Finally making his way back to England or else be censured as a Papist sympathizer. After witnessing the merciless condemnation of an elderly Catholic man in London, Campion decided he had no choice but to go to mainland Europe to avoid a similar fate and determine his future. At first, his ship to the continent was stopped, and his money confiscated by officials. Only with the help of personal friends was a second ship procured and he bid adieu to his native land. Finally, he was forced to face up to himself and His God.

    Campion sought sanctuary at the Catholic seminary of Douai, and was welcomed there with kindness and consideration. Gradually adjusting to his contemplative surroundings, he began to realize that although his ideals for “the perfect scholar” were in and of themselves praiseworthy, they missed something that he found in Douai. It was a depth that he found only in abandonment of self and all earthly pleasures, slowly laying down his own will for the love of Jesus Christ. It was a process of conversion that led him to reconcile with the Catholic Church, go to confession, and receive the Eucharist once again. With this, his life was transformed, and he confessed that he felt as if his old self had died to  a large extent, and he was being born anew as a soul yearning to be formed in Christ.

     In 1573, Campion made a pilgrimage in Rome, with the intent to discerning whether or not he was called to join the Society of Jesus as a priest. Both his scholastic aptitude and zeal for the spread of the faith made him a worthy candidate, but he wanted to be sure it was not his will instead of God’s. Upon reaching Rome, Campion was overwhelmed with the contrast of the Eternal City as an Ancient and Religious capital. “Make the most of Rome,” he wrote to his friend, Gregory Martin. “Do you see the dead corpse of that Imperial City? What can be glorious in life, if such wealth and beauty has come to nothing? But who has stood firm in these wretched changes – what survives? The relics of the Saints and the chair of the Fisherman.”

     Campion did ultimately become a novitiate of the Society of Jesus, and after spending time in solitude going through The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the venerable founder of the Jesuits, he went to Brunn in Moravia where he lived in community life among a group of fellow novitiates. Years later, he would fondly reflect his time spent there in communal brotherhood, which was somewhat similar and yet very different to the comradery he had so enjoyed at Oxford:

    “How could I help taking fire at the remembrance of that house where there were so many burning souls – fiery of mind, fiery of body, fiery of word with the flame which God came upon earth to send, that it should burn there always? O dear walls that once enclosed me in your company! Pleasant recreation-room, where we talked so holily! Glorious kitchen, where the best of friends – John and Charles, the two Stephens, Sallitzi, Finnit and George, Tobias and Gaspar – fight for the pots in holy humility and charity unfeigned! How often do I picture it; once returning with his load from the farm; another from market; one sweating, sturdy and merry, under a sack of refuse, another toiling along on some other errand. Believe me, my dearest brethren, your dust and brooms, chaff and loads are beheld with joy by the angels. Would that I had never known any father but the fathers of the Society; no brothers but yourself and my other brothers; no business but that of obedience; no knowledge but Christ crucified.”

    On September 8, 1578, the birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Edmund Campion said his first mass as an ordained priest. For the next two years, he lived in Prague and immersed himself in priestly and scholarly pursuits, which suited his personality to a tee. He wrote, taught, spent time with fellow clergymen, and even managed to keep in touch with several of his former students in England via written correspondence. He even toyed with the idea of trying to relocate his long-lost History of Ireland and have it published abroad (it seems he couldn’t quite get its loss out of his mind!). He also had the pleasure of meeting another young Englishman of similar background who was visiting Prague: Sir Philip Sydney, the royal courtier, romantic poet, and future military hero who also happened to be the son-in-law of Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s virulently anti-Catholic spymaster. Nevertheless, Campion enjoyed long conversations with the young man, and charged his Jesuit companions to pray for him, for he believed deep down he might be closer to the fullness of the faith than others assumed.

    But Campion laid-back existence was about to change dramatically after he received a letter from his superior ordering him to return to England as a missionary, along with Fr. Robert Persons, to the persecuted Catholics of his native land. It was nothing short of a suicide mission; the penalty for being a Catholic priest in England was almost always execution. Now the college geek was about to be transformed into an undercover agent. Around this time, he had a mystical experience in which he claimed to see the Blessed Virgin appear to him and inform him that he would die a martyr’s death in England. A fellow priest had the same premonition, and wrote on the wall of Campion’s room in Prague “Edmundus Campianus, Martyr”.

     Campion returned to England in 1580, now as an outlaw of sorts, disguising himself as a jewel merchant in order to hide his true identity, but choosing yet another uninspiring alias: Mr. Edmunds. A lay brother who accompanied him named Ralph Emerson (who Campion fondly dubbed “my little Ralph”) acted as his man-servant. They traveled across the country, administering the sacraments and keeping the faith alive in Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Northhamtonshire, Lancashire, and beyond. This inaugurated one of the biggest man-hunts in 16th century England as the “seditious Jesuits” were rumored to be on a mission to assassinate the Queen and overthrow the government. An eerie incident involving church bells throughout the country apparently ringing on their own did nothing to calm the paranoid populace. Ironically enough, Campion’s headquarters in London was a building rented from the sheriff of London, who was frantically searching the city to arrest him.

    Fr. Campion had a series to close calls with the authorities, and on one occasion was almost apprehended while teaching a servant girl her catechism in the garden of a Catholic home. When the guards made their approach, the girl made quick work of pushing the priest into a nearby duck pond. Covered in mud and duck weed, sputtering and looking totally ridiculous, the guards saw nothing of the scholar-turned-priest once renowned for his impeccable attire and etiquette…and moved on along! But the net was slowly closing for the man bearing the jewels of the faith more precious than any diamonds of the world. 

     Realizing that he could not “long escape the hands of the heretics”, Campion wrote a letter to the Queen's Council to be opened only in the event of his capture, explaining that his reason for returning to England were solely spiritual as opposed to political and expressing his desire to engage the Protestants in debate. He claimed that any well-formed Catholic would be able to take them on, no matter how many there were or how well-prepared they came. Thus, the letter (which, contrary to instructions from the author, was opened and circulated by the custodian prior to Campion's capture) came to be known as "Campion's Brag":

     “I would be loth to speak anything that might sound of any insolent brag or challenge, especially being now as a dead man to this world and willing to put my head under every man’s foot, and to kiss the ground they tread upon. Yet have I such a courage in avouching the Majesty of Jesus my King, and such affiance in his gracious favour, and such assurance in my quarrel, and my evidence so impregnable, and because I know perfectly that no one Protestant, nor all the Protestants living, nor any sect of our adversaries (howsoever they face men down in pulpits, and overrule us in their kingdom of grammarians and unlearned ears) can maintain their doctrine in disputation. I am to sue most humbly and instantly for the combat with all and every of them, and the most principal that may be found: protesting that in this trial the better furnished they come, the better welcome they shall be… 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.”

     He would also go on to write an apologetics pamphlet called "Decem Rationes" ("Ten Reasons"), using logic to uphold the teachings of the Catholic faith. While some of his analogies and wording may appear excessively harsh in the light of today, it must be remembered that it was written in a time period when Catholics and Protestants were engaged in a life-or-death struggle in which neither side could afford to tread lightly. Still, it had all the same rhetorical flare that had made him famous as a scholar, and for Catholics cowering in fear of their lives, it was a strike out to prove that they were still alive and kicking. And Campion got something of a last laugh out of the operation as well, since he managed to have it published on a secret printing press and left planted on Oxford University where the students would be sure to read it.

    These events just served to make the hunt for Campion a more desperate affair. The government recruited one George Eliot, a ne’er-do-well had previously been accused of assaulting a teenaged girl, to help track down the priest. Pretended to be a Catholic recusant, he managed to slip into secret mass being held in the town of Lyford in Berkshire and receive Holy Communion from Campion (who, ironically, had made his homily on how Our Lord wept over the state of Jerusalem turning against him). Then Eliot slipped out and alerted the sheriff, after which the house was raided.  After failing to evade capture by hiding in a "priest hole" (a secret compartment in the house), the priests surrendered them without a struggle for fear of making things worse for their beleaguered hosts.

     The guards were initially fairly decent to their prisoners, and on the road journey to London took Campion to dinner at a local tavern.  Campion, still a socialite at heart, made the utmost of this opportunity, winning over his captors through his pleasant countenance and conversational skills. But the one person not enjoying this party was the brooding Eliot, who Campion purposely avoided eye contact with for much of the evening. Finally Eliot, with unmitigated gall, “Mr. Campion, you look cheerfully upon everyone but me. I know you are angry with me for this work.”

     Then, for the first time since he had given him communion at mass that morning, Campion turned his eyes upon him with blazing intensity. This traitor who had come to them professing to be of one faith had not only betrayed him, but also his brother priests and the good people had risked their lives to shelter them. Now they would suffer fines, imprisonment, and possibly death. And yet Campion, remembering his role as shepherd of souls, reached beyond his own human passions with a supernatural love. “God forgive thee, Eliot, for so judging me,” he whispered with choked emotion. “I forgive thee and in token thereof, I drink to thee.” He raised his cup, and then added gravely, “Yeah, and if though repent and come to confession, I will absolve thee; but large penance must thou have.”

    Campion was brought to the Tower of London and tortured to reveal the names of the members of the Catholic underground. He protested that such an act was contrary to the Magna Carta, as he had not been convicted of any crime, and boldly declared, “Come rack, come rope, I will not talk!” Through it all, he never revealed any evidence able to directly implicate those who had helped him, sparing many lives. Nearly crippled, he was brought before the Queen and offered a pardon and a prominent position in the Church of England if he would apostatize. He expressed his loyalty to the Queen, but flatly refused her offer.  

   When the time came for Campion’s trial, he could not even lift his hand to take the oath due to the pain inflicted by the tortures. A fellow priest kissed it and then raised it for him. Campion had always valued his friendships highly, especially those of his brother priests, and now in a cruel twist of irony, he would be their sole voice to represent them before a court where they were allowed no legal counsel, paper, or ink to take notes. The decision had already been made, long before Campion made his gallant legal struggle on their behalf. Just before the sentence of death was finally pronounced, Campion made a final statement as only his silver tongue could, not just to the judges, but for all of England, then as now, for all the Catholic Recusants who had no voice:

     “It was not our death that ever we feared. But we knew that we were not lords of our own lives, and therefore for want of answer would not be guilty of our deaths. The only thing that we have now to say is that if our religion do make us traitors, we are worthy to be condemned; but otherwise are, and have been, as good subjects as ever the Queen had. In condemning us 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. For what we taught, however you may qualify it with the odious name of treason that they did not uniformly teach? To be condemned with these lights – not of England only, but of the world – by their degenerate descendants is both gladness and glory to us. God lives; posterity will live! Their judgment is not so liable to corruption as that of those who are now going to sentence us to death.”

    After they were sentenced to suffer the gruesome death of being hanged, drawn, and quartered, the priests responded with a holy sense of irony, and sang the ‘Te Deum’ in unison, their voices echoing throughout Westminster Hall as they were led back to their cells. Back in the Tower, Campion received a surprise visit from someone who must have been continually on his mind: George Eliot. “If I had thought that you would have had to suffer aught but imprisonment through my accusing of you, I would never have done it, however I might have lost by it,” he blurted out lamely.

     “If that is the case,” Campion replied patiently, “I beseech you, in God’s name, to do penance, and confess your crime, to God’s glory and for your own salvation.

     But Eliot was not interested in making peace with the Divine, but rather in protecting his own life. He went on to explain that ever since his journey from Lyford, people had threateningly called him “Judas”, and he feared Catholic reprisals.

     “You are very much deceived if you think the Catholics push their detestation and wrath as far as revenge,” he countered. “Yet to make you quite safe, I will, if you please, recommend you to a Catholic duke in Germany, where you may live in perfect security.”

     Eliot was dumb-founded by the courteousness of his victim, but never took up the offer, either of conversion or safe-refuge, and continued his dirty work as a spy. However, Delahays, Campion’s goaler at the Tower, was equally amazed when he overheard his prisoner’s generous offer to the man who had betrayed him. He was so deeply moved that he began to look into the Catholic faith…and ultimately converted.

     On the day of his execution, December 1, 1581, London was drenched in rain and the streets had been turned to mud. As he was led out of the Tower and his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a crowd of people gathered outside the gate to observe the spectacle. “God save you all, gentleman,” Campion greeted them, weakly yet kindly. “God bless you, and make you good Catholics.” As Campion was being dragged on a hurdle to the place of execution at Tyburn, with crowds jeering and spitting at him, he managed to raise his crippled hand slightly in recognition of the of Our Lady located in the niche of Newgate Arch. At long last, her prophecy of his martyrdom was coming to pass. Turning a rough corner, mud splattered on his face, and unexpectedly a gentleman in the crowd, moved to pity, gently wiped off his face with a handkerchief.

    On the scaffold, some in the crowd called upon him to confess his treason “As to the treasons which have been laid to my charge, and for which I am come here to suffer, I desire you all to bear witness with me that I am thereof altogether innocent. I am a Catholic man and a priest; in that faith have I lived and in that faith I intend to die. If you esteem my religion treason, then am I guilty; as f or other treason I never committed any, God is my judge…”

    Campion started to pray in Latin, but an Anglican clergyman rudely interrupted him and tried to direct his prayers according to the Protestant form. “Sir, you and I are not one in religion, wherefore I pray you content yourself. I bar none of prayer; but I only desire them that are of the household of faith to pray with me, and in mine agony to say one creed.” When someone cried out that a good Englishman would pray in English instead of Latin, he retorted with his old wit, “I will pray God in a language which we both well understand.”

    Again demands were flung from the crowd. The councilors demanded that Campion ask the Queen’s forgiveness. “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.” Again they demanded him to name the Queen for whom he prayed. “Yea for Elizabeth, your Queen and my Queen, unto whom I wish a long quiet reign with all prosperity.” Then the cart was driven away from under him, and the hangman’s noose tightened. Half-suffocated, he was then taken down, and the gruesome disemboweling began. On young Cambridge student and amateur poet, Henry Walpole, was haunted when Campion’s blood splashed on his cloak. Raised loosely a Catholic, like Campion before him, he had signed the Act of Supremacy and thought nothing more of the faith of his fathers…until now. But Campion’s spirit would surge though him, and he would ultimately follow the same path to the priesthood, and to mission, and to martyrdom for the faith. His powerful words in ode of Campion were treason to publish, and yet have survived with the same intensity:
 
You thought perhaps when lerned Campion dyes,
his pen must cease, his sugred tong be still,
but you forgot how lowde his death it cryes,
how farre beyounde the sound of tongue and quil,
you did not know how rare and great a good
it was to write his precious giftes in blood.
England looke up, thy soyle is stained with blood,
thou hast made martirs many of thine owne,
if thou hast grace their deaths will do thee good,
the seede wil take which in such blood is sowne,
and Campions lerning fertile so before,
thus watered too, must nedes of force be more.
His quarterd lims shall ioyne with ioy agayne,
and rise a body brighter then the sunne,
your blinded malice torturde him in vayne,
For every wrinch some glory hath him wonne,
and every drop of blood which he did spend,
hath reapt a ioy which never shal have end.


     Edmund Campion truly was "a man for all seasons" in his own right. He was a student, a teacher, a scholar, an author, a missionary, and so much more. He was a man of both words and deeds. His vibrant style and incandescent zeal made him a source of great light for the Church under the shadow of persecution. His patriotism and loyalty make him an excellent source of succor for the Catholic Brits of today who struggle to keep the faith in times of turmoil. Of course, his influence "transcends nationality"; he belongs to the Universal Church in every corner of the world. He has always been a diamond of many facets, and bore well the name of “Campion”, taken from an English flower also known as “Our Lady’s Rose”. I will finish with the finale of “Campion’s Brag”:

  “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 set 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.”

Thursday, November 26, 2015

John Bunyan...


the author of Pilgrim's Progress, wrote this delightful intro to his soon-to-be famous book, which convinced me that 17th century Puritans could actually have had a sense of humor, and made me add Bunyan to my list of historical personages I would love to meet! (As an author myself, I can totally sympathize with his mixed emotions upon the concept of publishing!) For Thanksgiving, from a "real Pilgrim", "The Author's Apology for His Book"! ;) 




WHEN at the first I took my Pen in hand
Thus for to write; I did not understand
That I at all should make a little Book
In such a mode; Nay, I had undertook
To make another, which when almost done,
Before I was aware I this begun.
And thus it was: I was writing of the Way
And Race of Saints, in this our Gospel-day,
Fell suddenly into an Allegory
About their Journey, and the way to Glory,
In more than twenty things which I set down:
This done, I twenty more had in my Crown,
And they again began to multiply,
Like sparks that from the coals of fire do fly.
Nay then, thought I, if that you breed so fast,
I’ll put you by yourselves, lest you at last
Should prove an infinitum, and eat out
The Book that I already am about.
Well, so I did; but yet I did not think
To shew to all this World my Pen and Ink
In such a mode; I only thought to make
I knew not what: nor did I undertake
Thereby to please my Neighbor; no not I;
I did it mine own self to gratifie.
Neither did I but vacant seasons spend
In this my Scribble; nor did I intend
But to divert myself in doing this
From worser thoughts which make me do amiss.
Thus I set Pen to Paper with delight,
And quickly had my thoughts in black and white.
For having now my Method by the end,
Still as I pull’d, it came; and so I penn’d
It down, until it came at last to be
For length and breadth the bigness which you see.
Well, when I had thus put mine ends together,
I shew’d them others, that I might see whether
They would condemn them, or them justifie;
And some said, Let them live; some, Let them die;
Some said, John, print it; others said, Not so:
Some said, It might do good; others said, No.
Now was I in a straight, and did not see
Which was the best thing to be done by me:
At last I thought, Since you are thus divided,
I print it will, and so the case decided.
For, thought I, some I see would have it done,
Though others in that Channel do not run.
To prove then who advised for the best,
Thus I thought fit to put it to the test.
I further thought, if now I did deny
Those that would have it thus, to gratifie,
I did not know but hinder them I might
Of that which would to them be great delight.
For those which were not for its coming forth
I said to them, Offend you I am loth,
Yet since your Brethren pleased with it be,
Forbear to judge till you do further see.
If that thou wilt not read, let it alone;
Some love the meat, some love to pick the bone:
Yea, that I might them better palliate,
I did too with them thus Expostulate:
May I not write in such a stile as this?
In such a method too, and yet not miss
Mine end, thy good? why may it not be done?
Dark Clouds bring Waters, when the bright bring none.
Yea, dark or bright, if they their Silver drops
Cause to descend, the Earth, by yielding Crops,
Gives praise to both, and carpeth not at either,
But treasures up the Fruit they yield together;
Yea, so commixes both, that in her Fruit
None can distinguish this from that: they suit
Her well, when hungry; but, if she be full,
She spues out both, and makes their blessings null.
You see the ways the Fisher-man doth take
To catch the Fish; what Engines doth he make?
Behold how he engageth all his Wits,
Also his Snares, Lines, Angles, Hooks, and Nets.
Yet Fish there be, that neither Hook, nor Line,
Nor Snare, nor Net, nor Engine can make thine;
They must be grop’d for, and be tickled too,
Or they will not be catch’d, whate’er you do.
How doth the Fowler seek to catch his Game
By divers means, all which one cannot name?
His Gun, his Nets, his Lime-twigs, Light, and Bell;
He creeps, he goes, he stands; yea who can tell
Of all his postures? Yet there’s none of these
Will make him master of what Fowls he please.
Yea, he must Pipe and Whistle to catch this;
Yet if he does so, that Bird he will miss.
If that a Pearl may in a Toad’s head dwell,
And may be found too in an Oyster-shell;
If things that promise nothing do contain
What better is than Gold; who will disdain,
That have an inkling of it, there to look,
That they may find it? Now my little Book
(Though void of all those Paintings that may make
It with this or the other man to take)
Is not without those things that do excel
What do in brave, but empty notions dwell.
Well, yet I am not fully satisfied,
That this your Book will stand, when soundly try’d.
Why, what’s the matter? It is dark. What tho?
But it is feigned: What of that I tro?
Some men, by feigning words as dark as mine,
Make truth to spangle, and its rays to shine.
But they want solidness. Speak man thy mind.
They drowned the weak; Metaphors make us blind.
Solidity indeed becomes the Pen
Of him that writeth things Divine to men;
But must I needs want solidness, because
By Metaphors I speak? Were not God’s Laws,
His Gospel-Laws, in olden time held forth
By Types, Shadows, and Metaphors? Yet loth
Will any sober man be to find fault
With them, lest he be found for to assault
The highest Wisdom. No, he rather stoops,
And seeks to find out what by Pins and Loops,
By Calves, and Sheep, by Heifers, and by Rams,
By Birds, and Herbs, and by the blood of Lambs,
God speaketh to him. And happy is he
That finds the light and grace that in them be.
Be not too forward therefore to conclude
That I want solidness, that I am rude:
All things solid in shew not solid be;
All things in parables despise not we;
Lest things most hurtful lightly we receive,
And things that good are, of our souls bereave.
My dark and cloudy words they do but hold
The Truth, as Cabinets inclose the Gold.
The Prophets used much by Metaphors
To set forth Truth; yea, whoso considers
Christ, his Apostles too, shall plainly see,
That Truths to this day in such Mantles be.
Am I afraid to say that Holy Writ,
Which for its Stile and Phrase puts down all Wit,
Is everywhere so full of all these things,
Dark Figures, Allegories? Yet there springs
From that same Book that lustre, and those rays
Of light, that turns our darkest nights to days.
Come, let my Carper to his Life now look,
And find there darker lines than in my Book
He findeth any; Yea, and let him know,
That in his best things there are worse lines too.
May we but stand before impartial men,
To his poor One I dare adventure Ten,
That they will take my meaning in these lines
Far better than his lies in Silver Shrines.
Come, Truth, although in Swaddling-clouts, I find,
Informs the Judgment, rectifies the Mind,
Pleases the Understanding, makes the Will
Submit; the Memory too it doth fill
With what doth our Imagination please;
Likewise it tends our troubles to appease.
Sound words I know Timothy is to use,
And old Wive’s Fables he is to refuse;
But yet grave Paul him nowhere doth forbid
The use of Parables; in which lay hid
That Gold, those Pearls, and precious stones that were
Worth digging for, and that with greatest care.
Let me add one word more. O man of God,
Art thou offended? Dost thou wish I had
Put forth my matter in another dress,
Or that I had in things been more express?
Three things let me propound, then I submit
To those that are my betters, as is fit.
1. I find not that I am denied the use
Of this my method, so I no abuse
Put on the Words, Things, Readers; or be rude
In handling Figure or Similitude,
In application; but, all that I may,
Seek the advance of Truth this or that way.
Denied, did I say? Nay, I have leave,
(Example too, and that from them that have
God better pleased, by their words or ways,
Than any man that breatheth now a-days)
Thus to express my mind, thus to declare
Things unto thee, that excellentest are.
2. I find that men (as high as Trees) will write
Dialogue-wise; yet no man doth them slight
For writing so; Indeed if they abuse
Truth, cursed be they, and the craft they use
To that intent; but yet let Truth be free
To make her sallies upon thee and me,
Which way it pleases God. For who knows how,
Better than he that taught us first to Plow,
To guide our Mind and Pens for his Design?
And he makes base things usher in Divine.
3. I find that Holy Writ in many places
Hath semblance with this method, where the cases
Do call for one thing, to set forth another;
Use it I may then, and yet nothing smother
Truth’s golden Beams: nay, by this method may
Make it cast forth its rays as light as day.
And now, before I do put up my Pen,
I’ll shew the profit of my Book, and then
Commit both thee and it unto that hand
That pulls the strong down, and makes weak ones stand.
This Book it chalketh out before thine eyes
The man that seeks the everlasting Prize;
It shews you whence he comes, whither he goes,
What he leaves undone, also what he does;
It also shews you how he runs and runs,
Till he unto the Gate of Glory comes.
It shews too, who set out for life amain,
As if the lasting Crown they would obtain;
Here also you may see the reason why
They lose their labour, and like Fools do die.
This Book will make a Traveller of thee,
If by its Counsel thou wilt ruled be;
It will direct thee to the Holy Land,
If thou wilt its directions understand:
Yea, it will make the slothful active be;
The blind also delightful things to see.
Art thou for something rare and profitable?
Wouldest thou see a Truth within a Fable?
Art thou forgetful? Wouldest thou remember
From New-year’s-day to the last of December?
Then read my Fancies, they will stick like Burrs,
And may be to the Helpless, Comforters.
This Book is writ in such a Dialect
As may the minds of listless men affect:
It seems a novelty, and yet contains
Nothing but sound and honest Gospel strains.
Would’st thou divert thyself from Melancholy?
Would’st thou be pleasant, yet be far from folly?
Would’st thou read Riddles, and their Explanation?
Or else be drowned in thy Contemplation?
Dost thou love picking meat? Or would’st thou see
A man i’ th’ Clouds, and hear him speak to thee?
Would’st thou be in a Dream, and yet not sleep?
Or would’st thou in a moment laugh and weep?
Wouldest thou lose thyself, and catch no harm,
And find thyself again without a charm?
Would’st read thyself, and read thou know’st not what,
And yet know whether thou art blest or not,
By reading the same lines? O then come hither,
And lay my Book, thy Head, and Heart together.