While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
- Luke 2:6-7
“I worship you, baby Jesus, as you lie exposed in the manger. I love nothing more than your being a baby born in poverty. Oh, who will give me the gift of being as poor and as childlike as you? Eternal Wisdom, brought down to the form of a baby, take away my vain and presumptuous knowledge and make me a child with you. Be silent, those of you who are the wise in this world. I do not want to be anything, I do not want to know anything. I want to be everything, I want to suffer everything, I want to set aside everything, even including my own judgment.
”Blessed are the poor – not just any poor, but the poor in spirit – whom Jesus made like him in his manger, and from whom he took away even their very power of reasoning! You mortals who are wise in your own thoughts, farsighted in your plans, and composed in your speech, I fear you: Your greatness intimidates me, in the way that children are afraid of grown-ups. I need nothing more than the children of a holy childhood.”
- François Fénelon, God of my Heart
To understand what viewpoint François Fénelon saw when he wrote the quote above, we may need a little history lesson. About the time that François came along in 1651, his family was reduced to “impecunious old nobility.” In other words, they were of a noble line, but they had little to no money. What they had was influence in both church and state. His uncle was the bishop of Sarlat, a position that seemed at the time to belong to one member of the Salignac- Fénelon family or another. So, while he may not have had ‘nobility amounts’ of wealth, he wasn’t the poorest of the poor. Once François experienced his pastoral call, his uncle, the bishop, used his influence to get François into the best of schools, where he became friends with a few of the movers and shakers of the church in the later 1600s and early 1700s. He used those connections to eventually become the tutor for the Duke of Burgundy, a future king of France. He wrote some things in his writings that disturbed Louis XIV, causing him to be set aside (a fall from royal grace, if you will), but he could not leave to a different archdiocese, as Louis XIV wanted to keep a close eye on him. He weathered this storm of disagreement with the king and became the archbishop of Cambrai. He did most of his writing as the royal tutor and as the archbishop.
Thus, Fénelon had privilege far greater than a lowly child, sleeping in a manger. His education may not have been at the Sorbonne, but his theology classes used the same curriculum. He was one of the most recognized ‘wise men’ of his day. Thus, his laments were genuine and introspective: to know what it was like to be that poor, that innocent, and to give up the greatest knowledge of all the ages, to become a child.
Some of those reading this quote from Fénelon may have been right their with his dream-like prayer to be humbled, as a child – until it talked about suffering. Ooops. Woah! Pump the brakes! Yet, Jesus said that we must take up our cross. That involves suffering. Yes, we may not have to die in the manner that Jesus died, but we must take up the suffering – physical, mental, emotional, financial, the indignities, the setbacks, and the pain. We must accept God’s perfect plan. It will not be painless, but we will feel great Joy, even in our suffering, for we will be following the footsteps that God placed there for us.
Are you ready to grow from childhood to adulthood along that perfect path? Are we willing to sacrifice everything, as Fénelon describes, to get there?
Merry Christmas, everyone, and may God bless you as He guides you in His footprints, made for you.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.