One of English literature's most beautiful poems is one written by a martyred priest, St Robert Southwell. This poem, The Burning Babe is one which inspires me a great deal because it is a work of great hope. We all need hope in these times, a hope not rooted in the world, or in individuals or great ideas; rather, a hope which is rooted in the Lord of hope himself, Christ our Saviour.
Many have lost their faith, many in the last year as scandals have worn away the confidence of many, and yet not even the greatest scandal or the greatest tragedy can erase Christ, his message and his sacrifice. Christ was a victim himself, but instead of abandoning the truth, he proclaimed it because he was the Truth, the Way and the Life.
This is true hope, and in this holy season, we can ask for an increase of this hope through an increase of the gift of faith. In the poem St Robert, shivering in the cold, a man pursued for his faith, a holy priest tormented for his faithful ministry, a servant of Christ who would shed his blood for Christ, as Christ shed his blood for him, and for all of us. Listening attentively to the Child of the vision, St Robert's heart is glowing, and he is encouraged by what he hears. The Child laments that people have closed themselves to him, and yet he wishes to warm them with his divine fire, bring them back to life with his love. This is the Lord's timeless message, and he calls on us to listen to him. If we do, we will discover true hope, and the fire he will enkindle within us will give us confidence, peace and joy - the very things our world needs in these times.
THE BURNING BABE.by St Robert Southwell
AS I in hoary winter’s night
Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorchèd with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred:
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my fire but I!
‘My faultless breast the furnace is;
The fuel, wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;
The ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defilèd souls:
For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in my blood.’
With this He vanish’d out of sight
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callèd unto mind
That it was Christmas Day.
On behalf of the Council of the Fraternity, I would like to wish all our members and friends every blessing and grace this Christmas, and a peaceful New Year.