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St Edmund Campion
Martyr (entered heaven this day in 1581)
My poor, misguided nephew; you’ve got it all wrong, if you don’t mind my saying so. “Discernment” of your vocation, as you call it, is not a matter of algebraic precision. You don’t put all the different factors into a neat little formula and neatly come up with an indisputable answer to whether God wants you to be a priest or not. Not at all. If you try to “weigh all the pros and cons” as you put it, you won’t get very far. After all, the good achieved for the world and the Church by the celebration of a single Mass or a single confession far outweighs anything else you might achieve in some other way of life – Emmy Awards, Nobel Prizes, diplomatic triumphs, they all pale in comparison. So it’s not a question of weighing things in the balance. A vocation is an invitation to put one’s God-given life and talents fully and exclusively at the direct service of the Kingdom of Christ. The reason that you are experiencing such trepidation at the thought of accepting this invitation (yes – to me, at least, it is quite clear that you have received it) is because you are so enamored of pomp and prestige. Let’s face it; you are not an average fellow. Since your grade school days you have excelled in every way – academics, the arts, athletics, leadership, community service, etc. And little by little, through the years, you have come to take a deep but hidden pleasure in receiving praise. That’s natural, though not particularly virtuous. But will you let this little habit of self-indulgence interfere with God’s plan for you and your mission within the Church?
In many ways, you remind me of today’s saint. Edmund was a boy-wonder. From the time he could talk he was showered with honors. He rose like a comet to the heights of England’s elite society, becoming Oxford University’s shining star and entertaining Queen Elizabeth I herself with his feats of rhetoric and dialectic. Oh the higher-ups had great plans for him! But at the time, the Church of England had recently split off from the Catholic Church, and through his studies of the Church Fathers and the Scriptures, Edmond was becoming more and more uneasy with the separation. Eventually, much to the consternation of the Queen and her court, the up-and-coming Oxonian fled to the Continent, where he began his studies for the priesthood and ended up joining Ignatius of Loyola’s budding religious congregation, the Jesuits. Once he was ordained, he and a fellow Englishman (Fr Robert Persons) were sent back to England as the first of many Jesuits entrusted with the mission of winning the British back to the Mother Church.
For a little over a year, St Edmund tirelessly traveled the countryside, preaching and celebrating the sacraments for the fearful remnant of England’s Catholics. He traveled alone, in various disguises, barely eluding government capture at every turn. He dodged traitors and encouraged the faithful, laying the groundwork for two centuries of covert ministry that kept the Church alive until it was once again legalized in the 19th century. He also published two tracts during his mission there, defending the true faith and challenging the most learned of Anglican (that’s the Church of England) scholars to an open debate on the authenticity of the Catholic faith (no one took the challenge). His efforts produced magnificent fruits, stirring the entire country into a frenzy, until the Queen’s officials were so thoroughly humiliated that they had to adopt dire measures. Finally, they captured him, tortured him horribly, and put him on trial. His defense was brilliant and convincing, in spite of his weakened and broken physical condition, but the jury was stacked against him, and on December 1st, 1581, he was brutally executed as a traitor – the gushing spring of a steady stream of English martyrs and missionaries.
So you see, my talented young nephew, when it comes to following God’s call, one must not resort to petty standards of utility and worldly prudence – too much is at stake, much too much. One must simply trust God and go forth with a swashbuckling spirit. The Lord takes care of the rest.
Your affectionate uncle,