This is an adaptation of a column by Bishop Emeritus John R. Gaydos that was published in the Sept. 7, 2012, print edition of The Catholic Missourian:
I have been thinking about a beautiful piece of music.
It is Charles Marie Widor’s “Salvum Fac Populum Tuum” (“Lord, Save Thy People”), a rousing and magnificent instrumental piece for organ and brass,
The French Catholic composer completed this work in 1916, while most of Europe was engaged in the most brutal and deadly conflict the world had ever seen.
Much of Widor’s homeland was in ruins, and tens of thousands of his countrymen had died in battle. On top of all of that, victory in this “war to end war” was anything but assured.
The ominous opening strains of “Salvum” give an idea of what a man of faith must have been feeling at that critical point in history: fearful and aware of the need to rely on a saving God.
The main theme repeats, develops and swells with increasing momentum, like the Israelites pressing into Canaan with nothing to go on but God’s reassurance.
We press forward, too, although we sometimes can’t see where we’re placing our next step.
The challenges of our 21st-century world seem daunting and insurmountable. Poverty, inequity and violence tear brutally across vast swaths of humanity. Our values and doctrines are under siege from all directions. Sometimes, friends and even our own children turn and walk away.
Technology and untethered science promise unprecedented health, longevity and conductivity while providing simultaneous occasions for alienation, hyper-individualism and diminishing respect for human life.
Yet, in whispers just audible above all of life’s distractions and noise, “Do not be afraid.” “Stand up and walk.” “Know that I am with you always.”
Widor’s “Salvum” diminishes into a restful, almost surreal interlude, like a few moments of quiet reflection that help restore our equilibrium and long-term perspective.
Suddenly, the music rises again to an exhilaratingly triumphant conclusion. Victory is assured! God saves His people by drawing them closer to Him in this life and the next.
We truly have nothing to fear. Not even death. Charles Marie Widor knew that.
Thank God that we do, too.