In the period directly before and after World War 1, a group of writers in France formed the French Catholic Literary Revival. The members, Francois Mauriac, Charles Peguy, Julien Green, Leon Bloy and Georges Bernanos, produced literary pieces that rejected the materialistic, scientifically-based thinking of the time. Their work attempted to restore the ideal of life lived in relation to God and the struggle against evil.
Like St. Therese, Bernanos had the disposition of being a little child who expects everything from his heavenly Father. His one ambition in life was to be true to the child he had been, even unto death. He believed that the greatest sin of the world is the sin against childhood and the salvation of the world is through the spirit of childhood.
“The world is going to be judged by children. The spirit of childhood is going to judge the world….Become children again, rediscover the spirit of childhood….It’s your last chance, and ours. Are you capable of rejuvenating the world, yes or no? The gospel is always young; it is you who are old….I have always thought that the modern world has been sinning against the spirit of youth and that this crime would kill it.”
To Bernanos, the theological virtue of hope is the most childlike. He explains the difference between natural hope and supernatural hope: “…to find hope, you must have gone beyond despair. When you get to the end of the night, you find another dawn….Optimism is a false hope, for the use of cowards and imbeciles. Hope is a virtue, ‘virtus’ an heroic determination of the soul. The highest form of hope is despair surmounted.”
Our sins against childhood, against hope and trust have given rise to the culture of death. We no longer value childhood, therefore we abort the unborn baby. We no longer believe in supernatural hope, therefore we tell the disabled, the infirm and the elderly that assisted suicide and euthanasia are dignified.
According to Bernanos, the task of the Church is to keep alive the spirit of childhood. The child is “a companion on the journey, through death, through the pain of Purgatory, to the happiness of Paradise.” As Christians, we are the Church. It is up to us, then, to renew the spirit of childlike faith and trust. We do that with unceasing prayer and humble lives of faith, supernatural hope and trust in our heavenly Father.
Saward, J. (1999). The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age. Ft. Collins, CO: Ignatius Press.