On All Saints Day and yesterday at Mass we used this wonderful old hymn as our recessional.
The theme of the hymn is the faith of our fathers which enables them to endure persecution and martyrdom. It could be interpreted as referring to those martyrs of the early Church such as Sts. Peter and Paul. For those in Britain where the hymn originated and especially Ireland, it has a more immediate reference given that as recently as 200 years ago one could be arrested there for merely being Catholic.
In this country we have a long history of religious freedom but there are warning signs that this may be coming to an end. We seem to have a kind of militant atheism that has been gradually taking over both here in the US and in Western Europe. We are already seeing many signs such as the HHS mandate that Catholic institutions provide coverage for contraception, suits against businesses that decline to serve same sex couples for religious reasons, removal of mentions of God, etc.
Perhaps in the near future we too will have to face persecution much as our Fathers in Britain and Ireland did. We can only pray that we will be as strong in our faith as they were.