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Nuns reimagine ‘Invictus’ poem into Catholic song for our troubled times

'You are the Master of my fate / You are the Captain of my soul'
Tue Sep 1, 2020 - 1:45 pm EST
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September 1, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – In the rural countryside of southern Pennsylvania, a stone’s throw from the battlefield where President Lincoln delivered the famous Gettysburg Address to a weary nation, an order of cloistered nuns has made their address—to the weary faithfulInspired by the famous poem, “Invictus, by William Ernest Henley, the Sisters of the Carmel of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph have written a song to inspire the Church amidst the current wave of cultural confusion. Fittingly, the song, named for the Latin word meaning “unconquered,” rings as a ballad, a battle cry of a soldier who follows closely and submits faithfully to his Master and Captain, Jesus Christ 

LifeSiteNews sat down in an exclusive interview with the Carmelite sisters, who described that the song was originally written for a play which they produced earlier this summer. 

At one point in the play, the main character’s best friend dies, and inspired by “Invictus,” one of the sisters sat down at the organ and composed this song. The song transforms the 19th-century poem from one heralding self-determination into a tribute to the Captain who leads the faithful one into victory: 

Out of the night that covered me, 
Black as the pit from pole to pole. 
I thank Your tender Majesty 
For rescuing my witless soul. 
 
In the fell clutch of what I’d been, 
You took my place before the crowd. 
Under the bludgeonings of sin, 
Your head was bloodied, beaten, bowed 
 
Beyond this place, this vale of tears, 
Lies life, the price for which You’ve paid; 
And so the menace of the years 
Finds and shall find me unafraid. 
 
It matters not how great the wait, 
How dark the night, how high the toll. 
You are the Master of my fate. 
You are the Captain of my soul. 
 
You are the Captain of my soul. 
You are the Captain of my soul.

Behind the grate at the monastery, the two Mothers of the order described the background of the song’s lyrics and its meaning for today. Mother Thérèse told LifeSiteNews that the sister who composed the song “modified them [the words of Invictus] to fit to a more Carmelite, a more Christian expression.” Upon hearing the song, all the sisters were struck by the fitting nature of the lyrics “to the times we find ourselves in between the pandemic and the political unrest and so many disquieting events, the song seemed à propos to our time.”   

The song details a lone solider who finds himself alone after a great battle which leaves his leader bloodied. The submissive tone underscores the great beauty, as Mother Thérèse suggestedof an Almighty Captain, who, if we follow Him, will get us through, no matter what kind of darkness we face as a society, or as an individual.” She stressed that the overarching theme of the ballad conveys that when God is in control, the devil is vanquished and the faithful are victorious.  

Sitting to her rightMother Stella Marie, in a soft prayerful tone, highlighted her thoughts, stating that “we are going through the Passion now with Our Lord...but He wants us to know that after the Passion comes the Resurrection. She believes that Our Lord is suffering right now without the faithful having access to Holy Mass and the sacraments. “But,” she said, “we can do nothing without Him, and a soldier can do nothing without his captain, and so He is going to lead us through this darkness. 

Commenting on the elements of Carmelite spirituality that shine through the work, Mother Stella Marie eagerly shared that St. Theresa of Avila, the foundress of this order of Carmelites, often told her sisters “to be soldiers for Christ...and not only to be soldiers, but tbe at the forefront of the battle, to be the standard-bearers.” The sisters still hold fast to these roots of their order and view themselves as the standard-bearers in the cultural battle even today 

Mother Stella Marie spoke to the lay faithful encouraging them to “retain love for Holy Mother Church...we need to always keep our love for the Church very vibrant and very strong.” She urged the faithful not to just leave the Church or stop practicing the faith – those are not solutions for veteran soldiers. We need to keep on the battlefield. 

Mother Thérèse shared that the song has helped even the sisters themselves through their own troubles, reminding them that “the Lord is charge of everything, absolutely everything, no matter how dark it seems.” She hopes that “each one who listens to this song will sing it themselves, in their own lives...and then sing it together as a whole, and with that unity will come our strength. And then we will be unconquered.  

That is the hope of “Invictus,” which in itself is a battle cry for the Church and her people.     


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