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Hymns of Penitence

As I have written about in prior posts, I love hymns.  I guess it’s also why I love Catholic prayers. 

Sometimes when you just don’t have the words for a situation, comforting prayers or the poetry of a hymn, can come to the rescue. 

Recently I was lamenting the onslaught of bad news stories.  Another mass shooting had occurred, and I was heartbroken.   I found myself overcome by anxiety and sick for our nation.  How have we come to a point where human life matters so little?  After those stories followed political stories, with politicians on both sides calling people names, insulting large groups of people, all in the pursuit of a vote.  Our nation is so divided.  People are disconnected from one another, and will write things on the internet that hopefully they would never say to a person’s face.  But the internet provides people with a boldness and anonymity that allows for truly ugly discourse.  

As I was in adoration mourning this society and the sadness one evening, I found myself searching for some words of penitential poetry. 

I found a perfect hymn, from an unlikely source. 

Did you know GK Chesterton wrote a hymn? 

I didn’t, but found this gem in Anthony Esolen’s Real Music:  A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (which I highly recommend).  It is quite the penitential prayer:

O God of earth and altar,

Bow down and hear our cry,

Our earthly rulers falter,

Our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us,

The swords of scorn divide,

Take not Thy thunder from us,

But take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,

From lies of tongue and pen,

From all the easy speeches

That comfort cruel men,

From sale and profanation

Of honor, and the sword,

From sleep and from damnation

Deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether

The prince and priest and thrall,

Bind all our lives together,

Smite us and save us all;

In ire and exultation,

Aflame with faith, and free,

Lift up a living nation,

A single sword to Thee.

Our country is truly divided.  The whole world seems to be of late.  We need to call on God. 

To let his thunder arouse us from our complacency. We need to be stripped of pride, so that in our humility we can pray for each other, especially those who harbor ill will for us, whether for our religion, race or creed.  We need holiness and faith to bind us together:  those in power, the clergy and the lay people. 

It is easy to let my soul “sleep,” to stay out of the fray. 

But I pray for boldness to stand for Jesus and for our beliefs when called on. I pray for kindness—that my response to contempt and disrespect won’t be to reciprocate with ugliness.  And I pray for those who will inherit this culture, that they also will stand firm in a defense of humanity and their Faith. 

Ensolen writes, “For Chesterton sees that the wrath of God is more merciful than the indulgent apathy of the world; and the mercy of God is more searing than is the cruelty of the world.”  I pray that it is so.

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Anna Ostrom

Anna is a Catholic wife and mother of five children. She is thankful to be married to a stay at home dad extraordinaire, who keeps the family ship righted while she is working as a pediatrician. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, read-alouds, and searching for the world’s greatest children’s book.

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