HE JESUIT PRIEST and brilliant poet, Saint Robert Southwell, earned his crown of martyrdom at age thirty-three. 1 He left us beautiful verses, and the bravery he demonstrated during his life shows he believed what he wrote—to the very core of his soul. In the CAMPION HYMNAL, many of his religious texts were set to delightful music.
Here’s an example, which focuses on something we don’t like to think about, namely our sins:
This globe of earth doth thy one finger prop,
The world thou dost within thy hand embrace;
Yet all this weight of sweat drew not a drop,
Nor made thee bow, much less fall on thy face;
But now thou hast a load so heavy found,
That makes thee bow, yea fall flat to the ground.
(It’s the second verse of #826 in the Campion Hymnal.)
ONE MUST ALWAYS STRIVE to marry hymn texts to melodies with care and sensitivity. The following is a famous text by St. Robert Southwell, but do you recognize the tune?
It’s a beautiful tune, but I don’t think it could be used—because the association to something secular is (in my opinion) too strong.
Consider two more “grotesque” hymn pairings:
Were you able to discern the melodies?
WHILE POSTING THOSE VERSES by Saint Robert Southwell (SEE ABOVE) I stumbled upon something I published years ago. Now, you must understand that in general I’m a person who hates everything he’s ever done. I’m always embarrassed when I see my old writings or my old projects. This time, however, it was different. Believe it or not, I was spellbound by how good this particular project of mine came out—and I’d previously forgotten I was the author!
But I must say something else.
No matter how great our “accomplishments” are, they are nothing compared to what God does. Anyone who’s a parent, think about your children—how perfect they are. The way their bodies develop: ears; stomach; eyes; hair; feet; and so forth. And the way their little minds develop!
As parents, we had nothing to do with this; it’s 100% God. And no matter how much we develop, through practice and study, our creations are NOTHING compared to the perfections of the children God creates and entrusts to our care. God the Father was “well pleased” in His Son, and this should give parents something to meditate upon during their holy hours.
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Please do read the beautiful words spoken by Fr. Hardon about St. Southwell.