Jesuit Matthew Baugh, currently in his second year of studies at the Jesuit School of Theology at the University of Toronto, shared this reflection with Southern Jesuit Magazine about the influence that Jesuit Martyrs have had in his formation as a Jesuit.
Two years ago, having just pronounced my first vows as a Jesuit novice in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, I was on a flight bound for London. All of a sudden it hit me: For the first time, I was arriving in England as a Jesuit. Four centuries earlier, my brother Jesuits had arrived under starkly different circumstances. They had to enter the country in disguise, under assumed names and beneath the watchful eyes of priest-hunters. Edmund Campion, for one, passed himself off as a jewel merchant named Mr. Edmunds. Having left England eight years earlier to become a priest and a Jesuit, he was for that reason regarded as a traitor and public enemy.
Campion and his companions—Robert Southwell, Nicholas Owen and Henry Walpole—were among the first Jesuits I ever encountered. At that time, nearly ten years ago, I was an overly ambitious young graduate student at Oxford University, my sights set on a career in politics and foreign affairs. But, I also had a profound sense that the Lord was calling me deeper into prayer and union with him. When I began attending daily Mass at the university chaplaincy, I encountered one of the most astonishing preachers I had ever heard, a British Jesuit by the name of Nicholas King. Here was a man who had met the Word of God and knew how to help others do the same.
I soon began spiritual direction with Fr. Nick, and it was he who introduced me to the English martyrs. They instantly became both heroes and friends in the Lord, men who opened up vast new horizons for me and who pointed out a way of living in intimate friendship with Christ. These were men who had walked the very same streets that I now walked and who had heard the Lord say to them, as he had to the first disciples, “Follow me.” And they were cheerful! Nowadays people sometimes imagine martyrs as a gloomy lot. Not these men. They knew what awaited them when, not if, they were captured, but because they did it all for love, they were buoyed by that special grace that overtakes all lovers. They also acted out of the boldness that comes from the union of hearts and minds within the Society, where all the missions of individual Jesuits are inextricably linked. As Campion famously wrote to government authorities shortly before he was captured, “And touching our Society, be it known to you that we have made a league—all the Jesuits in the world—cheerfully to carry the cross you shall lay upon us and never to despair your recovery.”
Given what I owe to Edmund Campion—both because of his example and his prayers—it was a real grace to be sent to Campion Hall, the Jesuit academic community at Oxford, for my first mission as a Jesuit scholastic. At the end of my novitiate experience, the provincial asked me to return to Oxford to finish the doctorate in international law that I had begun but had left unfinished once I discerned my vocation to the Society. So, I spent the first year and a half of First Studies back in the place where I had originally heard the Lord’s call. This time around, though, I found myself in a whole new role—as a partner in the Society’s mission to the University.
The primary focus of my apostolic work was a vocations group for eight young men discerning the priesthood and religious life. But, I also helped Fr. Nick and a Benedictine scripture scholar lead a group of undergraduate students—consisting mostly of non-believers—on a study-tour of the Holy Land. In both contexts, I found myself looking to Fr. Ignatius for guidance. As a student in several Spanish universities and finally at the University of Paris, Ignatius developed a way of proceeding that remains definitive for us to this day, and not only in the university apostolate—engaging in spiritual conversation. In discussions with fellow students, he looked for where the Lord was already at work and where he could help them to encounter Him. The experience of trying to do the same at Oxford taught me an important lesson: At a time in Europe’s history when many people have lost all contact with the faith, personal conversations are one of the principal frontiers of the new evangelization.