Editor’s note: This is the twelfth post in our newest series, reflecting on the Hillbilly Thomists’ recent, self-titled album. The series will run each Tuesday and Thursday throughout the Easter season. Read the whole series here. This post concerns the song “To Canaan’s Land,” which you can listen to here.
“To Canaan’s Land” expresses a firm faith in a place “where the soul never dies.” Driving this oft repeated line forward, the song’s guitar strums stroll forth with the sure steps of a pilgrim moving towards his goal. The song’s faith turns my mind to the Fifth Lateran Council. Its hope reminds me of St. Isidore the Farmer, whose feast we celebrate today. Yet what do a 16th-century Church council, a 12th-century farmer-saint, and a song from a 21st-century Hillbilly Thomists album have in common?
First of all, faith. The Fifth Lateran Council infallibly defined the dogma of the immortality of the soul, making it binding de fide. After Lateran V, there can be no question that, as our song proclaims, “the soul of man never dies.” Our faith is not primarily in propositions like this but in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word Himself. And yet, because Truth Himself has spoken truths, when we believe in the incarnate Word, we also accept His words. For instance, Christ said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Mt 10:28). We have confidence that “the soul of man never dies” because Jesus spoke this truth and sent His Holy Spirit to help His Church faithfully hand it down and proclaim it.
From our faith in Christ comes our hope, which “To Canaan’s Land” most eloquently expresses. By faith, we know that there is a place “where the soul of man never dies.” By hope, I trust that God can bring me there, that “I shall spend eternity where the soul of man never dies”: heaven.
St. Isidore exemplifies this hope that “a garden’s blooming there for me.” He saw that this garden, already planted in his soul by grace, was watered when he prayed in the churches of Madrid every morning. Only after this would he turn to tend the earthly farm of the local knight. When this knight demanded that he forsake his prayers in order to come earlier to plow, Isidore calmly, but firmly, refused. He knew that he was on the way to Canaan’s land, and he would not be turned aside.
Did St. Isidore hope to receive material assistance to get out of this pickle? Certainly in leaning on the Lord in hope, he expected Him to fulfill his promise—“all these other things shall be added unto you”—as He indeed did by sending angels to speed St. Isidore’s labors. We too, in this land of “sad farewells” and “tear-dimmed eyes,” petition God for many needful things in our prayers, hoping to receive them. Yet, as St. Thomas taught and the example of St. Isidore manifests, our hope is firstly for a far greater gift from God: “we should hope from Him for nothing less than Himself.” We must know that we are heading towards nothing less than Canaan’s land, where we shall see God as He is.
St. Isidore has entered the heavenly garden prepared for him; he has obtained what he hoped for now that faith has given way to the sight of God face-to-face. For St. Isidore, faith and hope have ceased, and “all is joy and peace and love where the soul of man never dies.”
But for us, the “love light” of faith still “beams across the foam,” without the immediate clarity of sight. And yet even here, “it shines to light the fires of home” when the Holy Spirit Himself infuses charity in our hearts so that we may love God with a share of God’s own love.
We believe the many true propositions affirmed by the Church; we hope to receive many earthly blessings from God; and we love the many neighbors we meet along our path. But faith, hope, and love all reach out to the One Triune God Himself. As we sing “To Canaan’s Land” with the Hillbilly Thomists, let us beg the Lord to send His Spirit into our hearts—to move us to acts of faith in Him, hope of receiving Him, and love of Him.