Friday, August 10, 2012

The City of God vs. The City of Man

          I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
          Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
          Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
          And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
          I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
          I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.
And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.
This hymn, "I Vow to Thee My Country," is the composition of Cecil Spring-Rice. According to Wikipedia, the hymn was first composed in 1908, but revised in 1918 when Spring-Rice was serving as England's ambassador to the United States. If you watched the wedding, or the funeral, of Princess Diana, you perhaps recall the singing of this song, a favorite of Diana's, and of many in England. It is sung to a tune adapted from Gustav Holst's Jupiter (in The Planets suite).

Apparently the author originally titled the composition Urbs Dei or "City of God." What are we to think of the sentiments expressed in this song? Is it morally acceptable to give to one's country such "love that asks no question, ... that lays upon the altar the dearest and the best." Is our nation to be worshipped with the sacrifices of our soldiers on the fields of battle wherever and whenever our politicians demand it?

The third stanza recognizes the call to serve another country: "most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know." The Scripture teaches us that as followers of Christ, we are "strangers and pilgrims" on the earth, or "resident aliens." We belong to another country, we serve another king.

I am increasingly conflicted about the demands and expectations of participating in the politics of modern American life. On this day, the feast day of Edith Stein, also known as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, I am reminded of one who paid the ultimate sacrifice in solidarity with her people as a servant of "another country," a heavenly one.

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