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St Henry Walpole, SJ : Splashed by the Blood (1558 -7 April 1595)
“The Blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
from Apologeticus by Quintus Septimus Tertullian, around AD 197
“Your work is to discover your work and then with all your heart to give yourself to it.”
Siddhartha Gautama Buddha 480 BCE
“This is such an anxious period of time, how do you feel about a kind of nostalgia comforting you in these times ?”
“Henry Walpole was born in 1558 and, while in London training to become a lawyer, he witnessed the horrific execution of Father Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest. Bespattered by Campion’s blood as his heart was torn from his body, Henry resolved to devote himself to the Catholic cause for which the priest had died. He left England and was ordained in Paris in 1588.”
Henry was just 23 at the time of Campion’s martyrdom, and at 37, he himself would be martyred in the same way. We all seem to have several eras or periods of time that we are somehow familiar with, or drawn to in some inexplicable ways. I have friends passionate about the Civil War, the Revolutionary War or World War II. Some even believe they have been reincarnated and carry those memories in their physical and spiritual bodies. Though, I once read that Our Lady of Medjugorie, was asked about reincarnation and she said kindly but firmly, that we only have one life.
From early childhood I was drawn to the children and youthful martyrs of the early Roman Church, Agnes, Sebastian, Tarcisius, Lucy, Pancratius. In fact I have a funny story from age 10 when we were about to be Confirmed. I wanted to take the name of 14 year old Pancratius (at age ten he was a mature teenager to me !). I told my teacher and she rather rolled her eyes and said, no, you take either Anthony or Dominic,so, that’s how I got the Confirmation name of Dominic. Much later, I would learn that a Dominican motto is “Contemplata aliis tradere” - meaning to “hand down to others the fruits of contemplation,” derived from the Summa Theologiae by St Thomas Aquinas. So providentially, I was being given part of my vocation as someone devoted to the artistic life, very young. The Early Church of Rome, the Medieval, and the Elizabethan eras have always seemed familiar to me.
But what does “bespattered or splashed by the blood” mean to you and me ? To me it’s both literal and symbolic. Symbolically and literally, we are all influenced by the great sacrifices and deaths of people like Gandhi, Edith Stein, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sister Dorothy Stang, Matthew Shepard, Sister Dianna Ortiz, or most recently, Elijah McLain. These are just a few names, and we all have a person whose tragic death caused us to further convert our lives. And they don’t always have to be saints; the murder of a young girl like Gabrielle Petito can change lives forever and create a movement of immediate concern for all the missing and murdered young girls and boys.
Especially now, during this harrowing time of a pandemic, (and increasing threats to our democracy) we look to people whose lives are courageous, what Scripture, in the Book of Hebrews, calls the great “cloud of witnesses.” We also look to the survivors like Lady Julian of Norwich who lived through three outbreaks of the Black Plague in England, or a man who survived the Nazi Concentration Camps, Viktor Frankl. I look to contemporary and trusted spiritual guides, Nicholas Black Elk, Charlie Rich, Adrienne von Speyr, Sister Wendy Beckett, Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, SJ, Elizabeth McAlister, or ... we watch and pray for the now, heroic survivors of the recent fires of Colorado, to see how they will rebuild every part of their lives. Finally I want to say, I’m with you in these struggles, in no way above or beyond any of the suffering, nor do I ever want to be, but a fellow Pilgrim depending upon God in a “radical Way of St Francis- of looking to God for everything” ... every single day.
I’ll end with the beautiful prayer from the former Sacramentary for the feast of St Sebastian, 20 January.
“Dear Lord, fill us with that spirit of courage which you gave Holy Martyr St Henry Walpole strength to offer his life in faithful witness. Help us to learn from him to cherish Your law and to obey You rather than men. We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
Fr William Hart Dominic McNichols 💮 January 2022