Homily of Dr. Sami Helewa, SJ
at his Installation as President of Campion College
On a feast Day like that of St. Edmund Campion, we get together around the altar of God, to pray, to listen to the Scriptures, to receive the mystical body of Christ and to ponder the life of a martyr saint. Edmund Campion never took a step on our prairie land, yet his name is carried by our College out of awe and inspiration of one solitary life – a Jesuit in history, a saint for all eternity.
He was a son of a bookseller in the sixteenth century during the English Reformation. A lover of words and learning, a graduate from Oxford intellectual elitism, a passionate teacher and a holy man who did not shy from death for the sake of the truth living in his heart, he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism by 1564. He left England to Ireland then to the European continent where he was formed as Jesuit. Shortly after his ordination to priesthood, he served in the city of Prague before he was sent on a mission back to England – a very dangerous mission during Queen Elizabeth I. Back home, he preached and was quite effective at secretly drawing a crowd of worshippers. But he was caught, imprisoned, tortured for months, accused, and sentenced to death under the charge of treason against her Majesty. He was a man in history, a saint for all eternity.
What can St. Campion teach us today about leadership? How can we understand the connection of intellectual life and sanctity to leadership? The same I ask about Jesus’ mission in today’s Gospel.
There are three things I admire about the inspiring saint of our College. First, his interior life – he had purity of heart and clarity of mind. Saints often had this experience where their hearts and minds do not conflict one another; rather, they become so focused on their mission with Christ who was also never in conflict about his vocation. Campion as his disciple was no exception.
Second, I admire the courage of his conversion. Conversion is very serious business, needless to say. Throughout his intellectual life, his heart and teaching started to move towards Catholic doctrine. It captivated him and motivated him to go abroad to discover his calling with the Jesuits. Courage is often the response to a truth in the heart. It required courage to become a Jesuit especially during the English Reformation.
Third, he was a master of words. He knew how to move hearts and inspire others with his words. They reflected his interior conviction about the truth he discovered in the Catholic Church. Some of his quotes may illustrate my point better. He wrote once “Between optimism and pessimism, there is confidence of God”. Personally, I imagine that without confidence in God, between optimism and pessimism one may fall into the valley of cynicism. Campion was not cynical before the bewildering mystery of his calling but he was confident in God.
Another quote worth mentioning which is helpful in seeking reconciliation with Indigenous people: “We human beings are story-tellers, we pass on our values through the stories we tell… We must look where we have been in order to know where we are going.” He was saying that every Catholic story is connected to the grand story of human salvation offered by God through Christ.
These are qualities of Edmund Campion that set him on a pedestal of leadership: his interior life, his courage to face the peril of persecution, his ability to inspire others and his interest in the stories of others.
We come to Jesus, our Lord, and He is important to us. His words of prayer in today’s Gospel are so deep and meaningful. He prays to His Father for His disciples at the threshold of His martyrdom. Like Campion, He seems to be more focused on His followers than on Himself. Leaders pray for those who are under their care. Jesus is leaving them in the world where he witnessed the truth of God but his departure did not reflect turning his back to his original twelve disciples. Rather, in Jesus’ prayer, we sense his interest in their stories after his departure, and desire to remain present to them in a different sense. Leaders do pray to remain connected with those whom they lead but Jesus’ leadership strives for unity among his disciples. He is still interested in the oneness of His disciples as much as His oneness with the Father and with them. This oneness is the deep connectedness from heart to heart that we all hunger for and try to strive towards in the communion of connectedness. Prayer, in Jesus’ mind, brings out such a communion. In fact, the underlying motive of each prayer remains on connectedness.
When I reflect on the oneness of our College, I discover a true oneness despite the opposing differences we may experience with one another. Our College has a long history of prayer – as old as our history with higher education. We teach and pray concurrently. We pray for our students and with our students at liturgy. We pray for our faculty and with the faculty through their constant care of teaching and research. We pray for our staff and with our staff who ensures the smooth administrative progress of the College. We pray for our graduates and entrust their prayers for the world and for us. We pray for our alumni and celebrate with their successes. We pray in gratitude for our donors whose generosity for us is prayer itself. We pray for the Federated Colleges and the University of Regina as they remain partners of service in higher education. We pray for our Archdiocese and often concelebrate with them the true mystery of God’s calling. All in all, I sense the mystical unity of our College through prayers.
As you see, the community of Campion College is larger than its student body, its faculty and staff members. But this community has its challenges today. The government budget cuts threaten some of our services but let us not be afraid from poverty. Saints found their liberty in poverty. St. Ignatius of Loyola referred to poverty as “a mother”; as such, Campion College – through its oneness achieved by prayer – will continue to thrive. We remember St. Edmund’s words: “Between optimism and pessimism, there is confidence in God”. Let us not be poor in the confidence of God no matter what financial situation we find ourselves in. If we become poorer, we can still serve, we can still pray and we can still be educators.
Our relations with the Indigenous people reminds me of who I am as a Palestinian. The connectedness to the land of my ancestry remains possible though my feet never touched it. My heart remains connected to it through the stories I inherited from my parents about their land. These stories are alive in my heart and so I already have a process of my own Indigenization deep within me. When I eat herb-thyme from Palestine, I taste the land. Indigenization entails communion with one’s land, one’s past and one’s ancestry.
The Truth and Reconciliation Report, the mission of the Society of Jesus for reconciliation, and recently, Father General Arturo Sosa, SJ’s call for the transformation of the world through Jesuit higher education are all about transformation. The mind set for transformation requires us to see ourselves as global citizens. Therefore, Indigenization is a pilgrimage to make sense of losses and to gain strength in relating to others’ misfortunes. Again, it is about the communion of connectedness. Nothing about the Jesuit mission is easy but it is possible through prayer and collaboration with like-minded ministers of communion.
We also have the refugees with whom I can relate. Campion College started a campaign to raise funds for scholarships for the refugees in our city. If poverty is “a mother”, then money is “a friend,” well shared to assist those who want to connect to cultures of new lands.
A Palestinian national poet, the late Mr. Mahmoud Darwish, once said upon looking at the sky: “The stars had only one task: they taught me how to read. They taught me I had a language in heaven and another language on earth.” I guess to be bilingual in the languages of earth and heaven brings us closer to the effective communion between heaven and earth. Campion College operates through the language of earth that begs for connectedness in order to preserve her environment and secure adequate measure of peace among the peoples. But Campion College does not teach the language of heaven for academic credit. We learn it by observing the stars at night – these stars are our saints in heaven who still share their light in Christ with us. These saints are, in essence, the “active verbs” of the language of heaven.
Today I pray to St. Edmund Campion to pray for us collectively. My leadership as President is in communion with yours, the people of faith and the people of good will. The task ahead of me summons to one reality – the communion of connectedness. An African proverb sheds light to the manner of proceeding: “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.” So let us go far as people of communion, as members of the Campion College community, as servants for others, and as disciples in the confidence of God to please our saint whose name inspires us about God’s victory.
Dr. Sami Helewa, S.J.
President, Campion College
December 1, 2018