Speaking of Life 5041│Christ, Conqueror of My Soul
The English poet, William Ernest Henley, was an avowed atheist. You might recognize his name from his famous poem entitled, “Invictus.” Invictus is Latin for “Unconquered.”
Several generations of high school and college students have had this poem quoted to them at their graduation ceremonies around the world.
The last line of this poem boasts this:
It matters not how strait the gait,
how charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.1
Many have risen to their feet with applause upon hearing this inspiring declaration. I wonder how these words fall on your ears. Do they make you want to go out and conquer the world?
While we mortal beings do possess great power and can achieve a great many things, are we truly the masters of our own fate, the captains of our own souls?
In his gospel, Matthew records Jesus’ stinging rebuke to one of his closest disciples. After hearing from Jesus that he was going to suffer and die, Peter challenged Jesus to be the master of his own fate, the captain of his soul.
Jesus stopped that train of thought and informed Peter in no uncertain terms that he didn’t have the things of God in mind. Following those words, Jesus clarifies where true life is found – by following him.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it do for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Jesus makes it clear to his disciples, and to us, that as his followers, we must die to our self-will. Entering into life with Christ, opens us to experience his love and the greater reality of his kingdom. Captived by Christ we realize that our longings and desires are met through participating with him in drawing humanity into the Father’s loving embrace. We trade our self-generated ideas of glory in for giving him the glory trusting he is working for our good.
We must die to the very idea of being the masters of our own destinies. Someone else is in charge, and that someone is Jesus. He is the One who entered into our suffering, conquered our souls with the Father’s love, and who through the leading of the Holy Spirit brings us into a destiny that is far greater than one who we could ask for or imagine.
In response to Henley’s “Invictus”, Dorothy Day penned her poem, entitled “Conquered”. The opening line states:
Out of the light that dazzles me,
bright as the sun from pole to pole,
I thank the God I know to be,
for Christ-the conqueror of my soul.2
Captivated by Christ may you trade your self will for the glorious destiny he has in store for all of humanity.
I’m Cara Garrity, Speaking of Life.