A New-yet-Old Treasure from St Edmund Campion

This year seems already to be flying past, with so much happening that it is hard to keep up. Perhaps mercifully, this blog has suffered from relative neglect.

Today is a post long overdue. It should have appeared in December. Better late than never?

At the great Jesuit school Stonyhurst, in the remote wilds of Lancashire’s Ribble Valley, some pupils have been involved in the fading art of letterpress printing. The St Omers Press (harking back to the school’s origins in exile at St Omer, near Calais) seeks to publish works associated with the school and its Jesuit heritage, not least by dipping into its important archival collections. They use a rescued and restored Albion Press, and have received significant help from Stanbrook Abbey in the venture. They have their own web page if you are interested in learning more about them.

One work which happily came to my attention, and which is not listed on their website, is a lovely little piece of work. The publication date is actually November 2010 but the work has not received the exposure it surely deserves.

To prolong the suspense, let’s delay discussing the content and deal with the wrapping. It is an A4-sized card booklet containing slightly smaller (as folded) parchment paper, one large sheet making four pages. The text is set in the Poliphilus typeface, which was used in a work printed by the great early printer Aldus Manutius in 1499 and revived in 1920 by a modern great, and Catholic convert, Stanley Morrison (who gave us the important, if vastly overused, Times New Roman typeface). Pupils past and present worked on the typesetting. Only 250 copies were printed, and there are a goodly number left. The price for what must be, as you shall see, an important and even historic publication, is remarkably low. Too low for me to print! [Update: 'tis a shame to keep the price a secret - £5! For goodness' sake, buy one. Just email Mrs Jan Graffius at St Omers Press.]

It is the text that elevates the printing onto such an elevated plane. It is a fine translation, by Anastasis Callinicos (a Classics master at Stonyhurst) of an intimate, intensely personal prayer to God and the heavenly court by St Edmund Campion in the lead up to his martyrdom in 1581. Entitled Anima (“The Soul”), until now it has been lying quietly, and in its original Latin, in the Jesuit collections at Stonyhurst. This is the first translation, and in it we hear Campion not in the confident public voice of his famous Brag, but in a mood of penitence, self-offering and self-surrender, and of faith. There are no bitter arrows aimed at his persecutors; rather is he preparing himself for the great trial of his last torture and execution, and his coming before the judgment seat of God.

It is a beautiful and moving work, and the translation does it full justice. There is in it both food for lectio divina, and general spiritual balm. Below is the text, and pictures of the publication taken hastily on my mobile phone. It really is worth trying to get a copy, so go to the Press’ webpage and put in an order. The poignancy of the words are only enhanced by the simple charm of its printed form.


I have deserved it, I confess; and, when punished,
I do not so much feel its bitterness, as I grieve,
That I, trusting in vices and sin, have displeased you,
That I have done injury to so great a Monarch,
That I have done harm to your spirit, which is of my Saviour.

How foolish I was, to have dared so often to yield to sin!
To have reprised again so many sins, so many empty words!
To have prostituted my good hours!
To have nourished the poison within!
So often to have adventured the uttermost perils of everlasting Death!
To have turned Salvation from many!

O where would I now be,
Had Your Grace not rescued me from my loathsome failings,
Filled me with a better light,
And exchanged, for the eternal Fires of Hell,
The holy fires of Love!

Give pardon to the one confessed,
And, as much as You are pleased to temper your Justice with a father’s
As much as You grant the power to prevail to those petitions,
Which the whole Church pours out,
Bride to You, Mother to me;
As much as You, Christ, will be, of Your own will, the Sacrifice on
splendid altars,
As much as the Solemn Rite of the day demands,
As much as Your compassion bears,
So assuage the great agonies I deservedly suffer.

O Heavenly Ones, repeat the prayers, release the prisoner.
O Fathers, say again the sacred words and take pity on us.
O Brothers, hear and lighten my heavy plaint.

Were it permitted to me to return to the airy sunlight,
Such things as I have now learnt,
Were I to have a life longer than six hundred years,
At every hour I would gladly commemorate those Departed,
And offer reverent vows on their behalf.

All around, I see old companions, beloved hearts,
Some whom I drew into the ways of sin,
Some also who drew me into ruinous friendships;
Well do they now gather about the Venerable Body,
Well do they now rejoice;
Let them, their earlier faults now repaired, look upon me, I.pray,
And let them store me in minds that remember.

Hope, greatest and ever-present to the Dead,
Hope is the Host which I behold;
Here, be assembled here, I pray;
Here celebrate God, and for the afflicted seek peace.

Now I have spoken: I am going back.
For, though I undergo bitter tortures,
I have no desire to climb, blessed, to that High Seat, before I am purified:
But this is not the place for such sordid matters.
Only this I ask: have pity, Sweet Jesus.

Rightly do I owe thanks without measure to you, my Guardian Angel,
Who have brought comforts joyous with light,
That light which has borne witness to the manifold Majesty of the Lord,
And vouchsafes the distinction, stature and honour of God.

St Edmund Campion S.J. martyred 1 December, 1581
(Translated by Anastasis Callinicos)

Vocations, New Evangelization and such like

Happy new year, belated though the greeting might be.

The past year has seen a lot of talk, using both ink and air, about vocations, and the culture of vocation, as the Church in this sceptred but Godless isle seeks to repair the damage of the last few decades that has been visited upon the priestly and religious life. For a long time I have been one of those happy to talk of religious and priestly callings as being just two among many possible vocations, such as marriage or single life, or even more narrowly to a range of what are more traditionally termed careers. Some have noted the danger of reducing vocation to career-choice and have changed the rhetoric to centre on vocation as state in life: celibate priest or religious, married, consecrated virginity or the single life. (Yet some die-hards, yea heretics, still hold to vocation being a call away from the normative state of life for humanity as elaborated in Genesis, namely marriage and the raising of a family: marriage is hard-wired into human nature, not a call external to it. Yes – I am a heretic now.)

This rhetorical shift was satisfyingly sensible: job and vocation are not synonyms. Yet still something indeterminate and indistinct gnawed away at satisfaction. Partly it was empirical: all the talk and preaching on vocation, all the initiatives initiated and courses run, the literature and websites produced, the psychology and affective skills employed seemed impressive in scope. Yet if one stopped to look at results, they were meagre. There has been a growth in vocations in the traditional sense, yet it seems to have been almost in spite of the vocations industry than because of it. So many of the vocations that have emerged have come from the more traditional sources, or been inspired by the example and teaching of recent popes. All this feverish promotion of the traditional vocations, situated with an avowed egalitarianism among other states of life now also called vocations, seemed remarkably fruitless.

Perhaps, one thought, the promotion of the New Evangelization was missing link. To promote a culture of faith leading into mission, employing the latest media and insights, going out into the marketplace, and making evangelization (hitherto not a common Catholic word if I remember rightly) a mission, even a ministry, shared by the laity as well as clergy and religious. The implication, and sometimes the assertion, was that this mission flowed from our Baptism, and now it is time to revive it.

However, troublingly, it was easy to detect the emergence of what has all the markings of yet another industry. The industrialization and democratization of vocation and evangelization seems to meet the needs of our 21st century world with its new media, more literate and technologically-savvy laity, especially youth and a revived urge to be doing something.

And here comes my heresy. I just do not see it working, either thus far or in the near future. There is immense goodwill and fervent desire to be righting the listing ship. Yet these positive energies are being directed into what is all too often mere activity. There comes to mind the old tag-line (or was it a poster?): Jesus is coming. Look busy. Busy we are, to what appears no good result.

If we survey the history of the Church, we see readily enough that it had its periods of decline and resurgence, its vigour waxed and waned. At the risk of gross simplification, it seems that most of the decline coincided with the blurring of the necessary distinction between Church and world, with the decay of Christian identity leading to Christians being in the world and all too clearly of the world. Resurgence coincided with the emergence of individuals, men and women, whose initiatives and insights did not emerge primarily from the progress of secular knowledge and its insights. They had a common, unifying thread: a radical, uncompromising return to the Gospel which is ever present in the Church but its lustre too easily tarnished by her members. To put it another way, and to employ the idiom of the Second Vatican Council, it was about the universal (and we must say also, perpetual) call to holiness, of the integrity that comes when the movement of our lips matches the movement of our lives.

All our striving for vocations and for evangelization will mean nothing if they exist merely as techniques and strategies which are effectively the focus of a relentless activism. There is need for relentless activism, but first and foremost it needs to be directed towards prayer, sacraments, the works of charity and of mercy, walking the extra mile, turning the other cheek, offering both our shirts and our cloaks – and these not on some impersonal, macro level. Our Christian living begins on the micro level, wherever we find ourselves, and with whomever: the troublesome relative, the annoying confrere, that hateful colleague, the needy friend, the homeless man sleeping on a busy city street. We are not called to change the world, but we are called to change our hearts by concrete acts empowered by our prayer. This prayer need not be the prayer of the professional religious, or the mystic, but the common, and too often scorned, recitation of set prayers or frequent offering of interior words and aspirations to the God who is ever at our side, or the lighting of a candle, or the tingle in our heart as we read holy scripture.

The more meagre our prayer and our sacramental nourishment, the more tepid our faith, the more anemic our living, the more soulless our activity. Too many like this, and we find our Church in decline, and so too vocations and evangelization. And no amount of talking and self-examination will solve the problem unless they lead to real holiness. Vocations and witness to the faith emerge from a healthy Church, a Church healthy in her members most of all. Too much of our vocations work and evangelization and mission is focused on what are actually symptoms, not causes.

So, most likely, until we rediscover what it is to be Christian both in word and in deed, to be devout in our worship and prayer and brave in our charity and compassion, to be in the world but never one with the world, to value our faith and our sacramental life as more than a conscience salve we compress and cram into an hour before Sunday lunch (or Saturday night on the town) – unless our lives as members of the Church conform more truly to the Gospel call and to the grace ever offered us (and too often ignored by us), then none of these initiatives for vocation or evangelization will ever bear much lasting fruit. At best they may occasionally strike lucky. But is that good enough? Read Matthew 6:33, and think about it a little.

One should never write late at night. The purple passages abound, and perhaps a little perspective is lost. But really, the only activity that God really needs of us now is that daily commitment to conversion that bears fruit in our living, a turning from self to God and to others that ultimately is the gift of God himself. Let us pray that we do not receive the gift in vain. Let us rend our hearts, not our garments. (Cf Joel 2:13)

I do begin to see that perhaps this is what Pope Francis is on about.

Jesus is coming. Be holy.

The Holy Innocents & Infant Baptism

At the office of Matins this morning, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, we hard read an excerpt from a sermon for the feast by St Bernard of Clairvaux. It is simple, direct and resonant even today:

Blessed is he who came in the name of the Lord! For the holy One born of Mary did not come in vain, but spread abroad abundantly the name and grace of holiness. Thence surely came the holiness of Stephen, of John, and of the Innocents. It is well for us that these three feasts are associated with the birthday of the Lord, for besides helping us to maintain our devotion, their coming one after another, as a kind of escort makes the fruit of our Lord’s birth more evident.

In these three solemnities, three kinds of holiness can be seen, and I think it would be hard to find among humans a fourth. In blessed Stephen we have a martyr both in will and deed; in blessed John we have the will alone; in the blessed Innocents the deed alone.

As for the Innocents, who could have any doubt about their reward? Surely, no one who believes that children born again in Christ receive divine adoption can doubt that these children slain for Christ are crowned among the martyrs. Otherwise, why did the Child who was born to help us, not to hurt us, allows these babes of his own age to be killed on his account? Since he could certainly have prevented their murder with a mere nod, he must have had some better thing in store for them. Therefore, as Baptism suffices for a child’s salvation even though he receives it without any act of will on his part, so also did the involuntary martyrdom of these children suffice to sanctify them.

Stephen was a martyr in human eyes. His willingness to suffer appears most clearly in the fact that on the point of death he was more concerned for his persecutors than for himself. John was a martyr in the sight of the angels who, being spiritual themselves, could see the spiritual proofs of his dedication.

But these, these Innocents, are clearly your own martyrs, O God; because they do not seem either to humans or angels to have earned any reward, your special favour to them is shown with greater clarity. Out of the mouths of children and of babes you have received perfect praise. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest and peace to people of good will. That indeed is magnificent but I dare to say not perfect praise, which will be found only when He comes who said: Let the little children come to me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Then, through the mystery of God’s goodness, there will be peace even for people who cannot use their will.

The role of the will is important in Catholic theology, especially its moral theology. Full and free use of the will is required for full responsibility for any act, be it the negative (as in sin) or positive (as in marriage). Yet the Church numbers the Holy Innocents as martyrs even though they could will nothing, and were pure victims. St Bernard sees the answer lying not in the will of the Innocents but in the will of God. Though they could not will to die for Christ, they did in fact die in place of Christ. So, by the will of God, their death is part of the unfolding of the plan of salvation, enabling it just as much as the freely-willed cooperation of Mary and Joseph did. Is that itself enough for them to merit heaven? No; rather, it is Christ’s future dying for them (and for us!) that gives their sacrifice its merit and sanctifying power. The death of the Innocents in place of Christ is indeed a type and foreshadowing of Christ’s own death for them and for us. Thus did God will it to be, among the many possible ways he could have willed it.

Thus when we consider the Baptism of infants, so much disputed in recent centuries and even in the early Church, we can see one principle that supports it. Human will is not all-sufficient; the divine will is sufficient and efficient. While it may be that God will not disregard the free and full operation of human will (else we would not truly be free), he can exercise his will with regard to those who cannot exercise their own human wills. God willed that the Innocents’ death in place of Christ would be their sharing in Christ’s Cross and so their entrée into heavenly glory. Likewise, God wills that through the Church’s Baptism, itself a sharing in the death of Christ, infants receive the gift of heavenly glory till that day they would will to forsake it through sin.

The Innocents’, too, received Baptism, but by blood and not water. Is this straining things too much? If we think so, we might spend time reflecting on the fact that on the Cross, there flowed from Christ’s pierced side blood and water. In this blood and water from the Cross is established the whole sacramental and salvific economy of the Church. Whether we are bathed in the water only, the blood only, or in both, we are washed clean unto salvation.

The eternal perspective cannot remove the pain that the loss of an innocent occasions, not least for the parents. The darkness is there, but the divine light of faith shines through it, however dimly, to remind s that the Innocents, then and now, are in God’s hands.

Rachel weeping in Ramah

A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.” (Matt 2:18)

But in Christ we know – they are!

Gaudete! An online Christmas card.

Gaudete! Christus est natus ex Maria virgine.

A holy and happy Christmas to you all. Somewhat too economically I offer you the online card I have just uploaded for the abbey website as my Christmas greeting to you all. It’s a busy day for monks, so some economizing on time has been necessary. If it is a little more generic than personal, the sentiment is no less sincere for that. You will all be remembered at Mass tonight.

Oremus pro invicem – Let us pray for each other.

Click the pic to see the card.

Douai Abbey crib 2013

Douai Abbey crib 2013

The spirit of Christmas

Sometimes one has the privilege to see an example of the spirit of Christmas assuming flesh and blood. For this homeless family there was room at the inn this Christmas. ‘Nuff said – just read the story! (click below)

Good Samaritans, or just good old Christmas spirit!

Damp Spirits – the wonder of Christmas


Robert and Daniel together make up the design team Mr Kaplin, based in London. They have produced a simple, short, and poignant little animation for Christmas. It is less than 90 seconds. Watch it now, and then read on here…

It is not clear whether these two lads are Christian, but the animation they have created has far more of the Christian message in it than we might hear in many churches. Reducing Christmas to the Christ-child bound in swaddling cloths in a manger is wonderful for children, but by the time we have hit the teens we are ready for the deeper message of Christmas: that God became man in Jesus Christ precisely in order to take upon himself what ails us: the human burden of sin, selfishness and death. In fact, Jesus was born to die for us; but he died that he might rise anew, and us with him.

Christmas becomes a little harder each year. As we, even monks, have treats and good things aplenty, so it seems to become more insistent in one’s consciousness that there are those who do not; that there are those for whom Christmas means not light but darkness.

This Christmas, if you can do one thing only, please try to bring a little light to someone’s darkness, however small that chink of light, however great the darkness in which it seeks to shine. If you ask Christ to bless it, it will shine brighter than any star for those who have eyes to see.

May the Lord lighten their darkness, and give them joy to balance their affliction.

(You might consider, for example, supporting Stephen’s Marython…  just a thought. :-) )

Prepare ye the way of the Lord…

with thanks to http://foxandsqueal.com/

Pope Francis at his best

Happily, this picture is doing the rounds at the moment. This is good. So very good. A real Francis-can moment. Truly it needs no description.


Such a picture confirms that Pope Francis is more a man of action that word. Symbolic (though not only, and no less sincere for that) actions are his forte. If he can play to his strengths he has so much to offer this world, and the Church. And today, no doubt, this man too.

Peace upon them both.