26 December 2009


Grant us, O Lord, to learn to love our enemies,
by the example and intercession
of thy holy martyr Stephen,
who prayed to thee for his persecutors;
who liveth and reigneth with thee
and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Inspired by a variation on the 1549 BCP Collect for Saint Stephen, I had written a new hymn text for Stephenmas in 2008 but unfortunately it seems to have perished in the waters of Hurricane Ike which destroyed my home on Galveston Island in the same years. It is now almost 2010 and the words from that text are beginning to arise again in my mind -- no small fete after strokes (in the plural) and neurodegenerative brain atrophy!
So, my friends, I credit the reappearance of that hymn albeit fragmentary as a grace received through Saint Stephen who was one of my childhood heroes.

There is a magnificent hymn by Adam of St. Victor translated by J.M. Neale (of blessed memory):

Yesterday, with exultation,
Join'd the world in celebration
Of her promised Saviour's birth;
Yesterday the Angel-nation
Pour'd the strains of jubilation
O'er the Monarch born on earth;

But today o'er death victorious,
By his faith and actions glorious,
by his miracles renown'd,
See the Deacon triumph gaining,
'Midst the faithless faith sustaining,
First of holy Martyrs found.

Some may ask, Why write a new hymn when there is already one so brilliantly rendered? At root such a question -- which gets asked with some frequency -- speaks to a kind of divorce in the questioner's mind with regard to his or her own creativity. When we realise we are all called to a creative synthesis of our faith and talents and life, then it becomes clear that each poet will write his own poem, each needlepoint worker will create her own tapestry work, each cook her own recipe, each chef his own pastry, and so on. The genius of another does not render the rest of the world silent and motionless, but rather genuine genius leads to a kind of Pentecost event inspiring others in their own turn and in their own right. The painter inspires other painters, the dancer inspires other dancers. The athlete inspires aspiring athletes. The saint inspires others to be holy. And the hero inspires others to be heroic.

I never turned much to the traditional sources of childhood heroes in the world today. I suppose in part that was due to my maternal grandmother who told me about Jesus and the great saints; and, indeed she was the one who introduced me in the most personal and touching terms to the Blessed Virgin Mary during the difficult time when I was five years old and my young father suffered stroke and was in hospital.

I recall the way my Grandmother tenderly and simply comforted me by inviting me to tell the Blessed Mother everything in my heart. I begged Holy Mother Mary to return to my father to me ... a desperate cry, a prayer I had already begged of Jesus the Lord. God did indeed return my father to me alive -- a genuine miracle! -- plus with nearly an 100 % recovery, a second miracle to be sure.
Following that experience, I wanted to know whatever I could learn about the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the Little Flower, St. Frances Cabrini, and all others that filled my Grandmother's world. It was that world where we were never alone but always helped and encouraged by the saints of God ... it was that world of Christ's saints which I wished to inhabit all the days of my life.

Starting simply I remember singing Good King Wenceslaus and learning from my paternal grandparents about St. Wenceslaus and also St. Stephen the Martyr. "Upon the Feast of Stephen" -- a small line -- but one filled with mystery and interest for me, and in the succeeding years I tried to learn all I could about St. Stephen.

"He was the first martyr in the world!" -- I still recall the great excitement of realising that the good saint was the very first one ... and oh! was that powerfully important to me. The men named Vincent in my family (of which I was the third Vincent William) were named for Saint Vincent the Martyr, of Saragossa, Proto-Martyr of Spain.
And thus, the martyrs became the great heroes and heroines of childhood, and of my spiritual life and finally of my artistic imagination.

I have tried to relate in very simple words the great sweep of years in which I have grown to know St. Stephen more deeply. Fascinating it is that -- should I be called by anything other than 'Vincent' by someone who does not know me well -- invariably they call me 'Stephen'. This has continued to the present day and at times has had the variation of someone insisting that my middle name is 'Michael' not 'William' ... but that is a tale for another day.

Writing a hymn for S. Stephen has been very important to me, but I have never been truly satisfied with my results. I pray this Stephenmas I may be able to continue writing that special hymn in earnest and have something useful by the Feast of S. Stephen in 2010. Until then I offer the following hymn of mine for All Saints which is well suited to this 'candled season'. It can be sung to the oft used tune 'WINCHESTER NEW', but I sincerely hope it will come to be sung to the new tune written for it by the brilliant musician Noel Jones. The new tune 'TYBURN' was composed for this text, and I am profoundly grateful to Noel Jones for the honour of this marvellous tune for my poem 'Bright Torches in the Darkest Night'.

Bright torches in the darkest night,
The saints of God as lights yet shine.
Lord, let our witness rise with theirs,
And through their prayers give grace divine.

A dimly burning wick were we,
But now our faith fills with thy fire
For thou art all consuming love —
Thy perfect will our hearts desire.

Unite thy saints through every age
And cleansed from sin lift us above,
O Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
One God in glory, one in love. Amen.
Copyright © 2006 by Vincent Uher
This may be sung to the tune Winchester New

+Laus Deo.