When we think of “the little way” our thoughts naturally turn towards St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower herself. In her young life, she articulated and embodied what it means to be a spiritual child: childlike, not childish, endowed with wisdom and having complete devotion and confidence in a loving Father Who delights in the trust and innocence of His children.
While St. Therese remains the best known, she is not the only person of her time who understood spiritual childhood. Charles Peguy knew that humility and obedience in adulthood keep us as spiritual children to the Father. He was born in Orleans, France, on January 7, 1873, five days after the birth of Therese Martin who was born on January 2, 1873 in Alencon, France. Although he was a baptized Catholic, at a young age, he turned away from the Faith. He was the founder of a Socialist group and among his works as a writer is his Socialist manifesto. He married outside of the Catholic Church to a non-believer. Together they had three children.
In September, 1908, he had a reversion experience and told a friend, “I have found the faith again…I am a Catholic.” Since he was married outside of the Catholic Church, he was unable to receive the Sacraments and in childlike humility and obedience, he trustingly accepted the laws of Holy Mother Church.
With his reinvigorated faith, his writing developed a different theme: the joy, hope and spirit of childhood. He wrote many pieces of prose and poetry expressing his understanding of the Catholic theology of childhood.
One of his most famous and beautiful epic poems is:
The Mystery of the Holy Innocents (excerpt)
Nothing is so beautiful as a child who falls asleep while saying its prayers, God says.
I tell you there is nothing so beautiful in the world.
And yet I have seen some beauty in the world.
And I am a judge of it. My creation overflows with beauty.
My creation overflows with marvels.
There are so many one doesn’t know where to put them.
I have seen millions and millions of stars rolling at my feet like the sands of the sea.
I have seen days blazing like flames.
Summer days in June, in July, in August.
I have seen winter evenings laid down like a cloak.
I have seen summer evenings as calm and gentle as the descent of Paradise
All sprinkled with stars.
I have seen the slopes of the Meuse and the churches which are my own houses.
And Paris and Rheims and Rouen and the cathedrals which are my own palaces and my own castles.
So beautiful that I shall keep them in Heaven.
I have seen the capital of the kingdom in Rome the capital of Christendom.
I have heard the singing of Mass and of triumphant Vespers.
I have seen those plains and valleys of France
Which are more beautiful than anything.
I have seen the deep sea, and the deep forest, and the deep heart of man.
I have seen hearts devoured by love
Throughout a life-time
Lost in charity.
Burning like flames:
I have seen martyrs so inspired by faith
Holding firm as a rock on the torturer’s frame
Between the iron teeth.
(Like a soldier holding firm all alone all his life
In his General (apparently) absent).
I have seen martyrs flaming like torches
Earning palms forever green.
And I have seen gathering beneath the iron claws
Drops of blood which glittered like diamonds.
And I have seen the dropping of many tears of love
Which will endure longer than the stars of the sky.
And I have seen faces of prayer, faces of tenderness,
Lost in charity
Which will shine eternally through endless nights.
And I have seen whole lives from birth to death,
From baptism to the Viaticum,
Unroll like a fair skein of wool.
Well, I tell you, God says, I know nothing so beautiful in all the world
As a little child who falls asleep while saying his prayers
Under the wing of his Guardian Angel
And who laughs as he goes to sleep.
And who is already confusing everything and understanding nothing more
And who stuffs the words of the Our Father all awry, pell-mell into the words of the Hail Mary
While a veil is already dropping on his eyelids,
The veil of night on his face and his voice.
I have seen the greatest Saints, God says. Yet I say to you.
I have never seen anything so funny and in consequence so beautiful in the world
As the child who falls asleep saying his prayers
(As the little creature who falls asleep confidently)
And who jumbles the Our Father with the Hail Mary.
Nothing is so beautiful and it is even a point
On which the Blessed Virgin is of my opinion
And I can truly say it is the only point on which we are of the same opinion. For generally we are of contrary opinions.
Because she is in favour of mercy,
While it is necessary that I should be in favour of justice.
Saward, John. (1999). The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age. Ft. Collins, CO: Ignatius Press.
Catholic Information Network. The Mystery of the Holy Innocents. Retrieved from http://www.centropeguy.org/cachepeguy7.htm