Saints Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell – Readings

Commentary on Isaiah 53:3-7; Ps 16; John 17:11b-21

The Gospel reading comes from Jesus’ discourse with his disciples at the Last Supper, which we find in John. It is from the last part where Jesus prays to his Father.

He first speaks of all that he has done in carrying out the wishes of his Father. He then goes on to pray for his disciples and then prays for all those who will come to believe in him and form his Church, a Church of love and unity.

Today’s reading comes from the part where he prays for his disciples. Much of it is applicable to the martyrs we are remembering today. Jesus begins by asking the Father’s protection on his disciples who have remained faithful. He prays that they may experience the same joy that Jesus himself has experienced.

At the same time, he acknowledges that, because they have accepted the Word of Jesus and are spreading it to others, they are being hated by the world. At the same time, Jesus does not pray that they be taken out of that threatening world but only to protect them from falling into any form of evil.

They are in the world but they are not of it. They must be in it, if the Word is to be communicated. At the same time, they cannot identify with it for that would negate their message. Jesus prays that they may be consecrated by truth – because the Word of God is Truth.

All of this applies perfectly to the Campion, Southwell and the rest of the English Martyrs. It was only by being in England that they could console and encourage their Catholic brothers and sisters. They were hated for the work they were doing, although it did harm to none and brought consolation to many.

The First Reading is from the prophet Isaiah. It is a passage about the ‘Suffering Servant’ which we read in Holy Week and apply to Jesus. Today it is applied to the English Martyrs. They, too, were “spurned and avoided by men”, men of suffering… They were people “from whom men hide their faces, spurned”, and “held in no esteem”.

Yet, like their Master, it was our infirmities that they bore, our sufferings that they endured. They were pierced for our offences, crushed for our sins… by their stripes we were healed.

We had gone astray like sheep, each following their own way, but the Lord laid on them our guilt. Though harshly treated, they submitted and opened not their mouth. Like a lamb, they were led to the slaughter, or a sheep before the shearers.

Probably, because of their courage and suffering, we will not have to face similar challenges but let us, nevertheless, try to imitate the integrity and commitment to their Lord.

A verse from Robert Southwell’s The Burning Babe as we approach Christmas:

Behold, a seely tender babe
In freezing winter night
In homely manger trembling lies, –
Alas, a piteous sight!
The inns are full, no man will yield
This little pilgrim bed,
But forced he is with seely beasts
In crib to shroud his head.

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