"it did not come without cost. Eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred. They were followed by countless others through the centuries"
Saint Edmund Campion
Sometime around the year 1578, a man presented himself to the rector of the English College in Rome. The man gave his credentials and lineage, citing as his father a noted and prominent Catholic. Dr. Morris, the rector, received the man with great kindness and showed him every hospitality. But it was all a lie.
The man's true name was Anthony Munday, a spy sent by Elizabeth I of England, to gain intelligence on the activities of the college.
During Elizabeth's reign, it was illegal for Catholic priests to celebrate Mass, hear confessions, or teach Catholic doctrine, and for lay people to shelter priests. If you were a Catholic in Elizabethan England, you lived in a police state, careful of what you said and to whom you said it. This made 16thcentury England a mission field, as wild and dangerous as the jungles of Africa. The English college in Rome formed priests who were sent back to England to serve the few remaining Catholics and convert as many souls as possible.
Anthony Munday inserted himself into the life of the college, always listening, always gathering information. His greatest prize was Edmund Campion.
Edmund Campion was a brilliant scholar at Oxford University. He impressed Queen Elizabeth so much that she marked him out for special patronage. But Campion was faced with a choice: either remain at Oxford and enjoy a life of ease, fame, and power, or become a Catholic.
Campion knew that conversion would mean exile. On the other hand, staying at Oxford meant putting success ahead of God. He chose to become a Catholic and leave England. He became a Jesuit priest, and, in 1581, his superiors sent him back to England to minister to the underground Catholic Church.
About a year after his arrival, Anthony Munday, posing as a servant, betrayed Campion to the government. He was captured and imprisoned. Munday even visited him in prison.
Campion and Munday spoke for a long time, and Campion encouraged Munday to confess his sins and come back to the Church. He even offered to give him a personal recommendation to a nobleman in Germany, so that he would have a safe and peaceful place to live.
But the traitor refused to repent and left the prisoner's cell angry and upset.
One of the prison guards had been present for the whole conversation. He was deeply moved by the kindness and gentleness Campion showed towards his betrayer. It affected him so much, in fact, that he became convinced that the Catholic faith must be the true Christian faith, and he decided to become a Catholic.
After a mock trial Campion was condemned to a terrible death. Yet he refused to renounce his faith, and he forgave his executioners, praying for the queen with his last breath.
Above the door of the English College in Rome are inscribed the words “I have come to set the earth on fire.” Forty four of its former students were martyred in England during this time of persecution.
Two thousand years ago, Christ came to set the world on fire. He brought a message of love for God that would affect how we lived our lives and lead us to build a society founded on justice and virtue. Through His disciples the flame of that message has spread throughout the world, toppling oppressive governments and bringing light to a darkened world.
But it did not come without cost. Eleven of the twelve apostles were martyred. They were followed by countless others through the centuries who valued their lives less than the message contained in the fire.
But the fire that once engulfed much of the West has cooled considerably. Places that once blazed high are now little more than smoldering ruins. And so Jesus calls us, reminding us of the mission of the Church. We are not here to make a broken world run smoothly. We are here to transform the world with the fire of Christian virtue and truth. We are here to contend against the evil and wickedness that would separate us from God’s love.
I often tell Christian artists who are trying to find their way to ground themselves firmly in their faith and let their art flow from there. And while that is still sound advice, it should only be a starting point.
All of our gifts are given to set the world on fire with God's love. To do this, our art must make a difference. Professor John -Mark Miravelle puts it this way in his recent book:
“The point is, firstly, if we ever want art to make a real difference to people, as opposed to being a cultured hobby of the few, it must readdress its proper subject matter, which is ultimate reality and truth.
Secondly, believers know that ultimate reality and truth are, in fact, God Himself, which means that Christians must at least be willing to address the divine in their art. Far from diminishing the impact of said art, infusing their faith into their work will enable artists to affect their audience at a deeper level because people fall on their knees before art only when it communicates more than just itself. People fall on their knees before art only when that art expresses and represents the divine.” (Miravelle, John-Mark. Beauty, What It Is & Why It Matters.Manchester: Sophia Institute Press, 2019, print)
And yes, there will be a cost. American journalist Herbert Agar said; “the truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” The Truth may cost us friends and loved ones, perhaps even our lives, but it is a Truth that must be served if we are to be truly free.
It is time to once again set the world on fire.
20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com