Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton

A Christmas reflection on the gleaming light of childhood

Christmas is almost here! If ever there was a holiday focused on children—this is it.

It seems a good moment to ask: why does childhood seem to be such a sacred, even holy time? When most of us look back at our childhood, why does that period always seem to be lit up by a kind of gleaming, golden light?

As the author of nine children’s books and someone who works full-time in the pro-life movement, I’m often asked that question. It’s too easy to say that children are pure and innocent and free from all the corruption and cynicism that sometimes make adult life so stressful. That’s a true enough answer, of course, but it’s cliché. Somehow we know there’s more to the story.

I think G. K. Chesterton provided the key to unlocking the mystery in a marvelous article he wrote called “In Defense of Baby Worship.” In it, he points out that for each child, all things are new—the stars, the sky, the grass, the trees, the shapes and colors of everyday objects, are all phenomena to be experienced for the first time. The astonishment children feel at the world is much more than mere innocence. Inside their tiny heads is a whole new universe—a universe as strange and unfamiliar as it was on the seventh day of creation.

That’s why adults are so delighted with even the simplest efforts of infants. We treat everything they do as marvelous—from their first feeble steps to their first garbled words. Case in point: my one-year old goddaughter is at my house for a visit and my wife—who is her godmother—is practically jumping up and down with excitement because the child is “helping” her wrap presents. As I write these words, my wife is telling her to “go help Uncle Anthony, too.” And to her utter amazement, the laughing child has come over to my desk and proceeded to pound her little hands on my computer keyboard as if it were a toy piano. As I rush down the hallway (to safety), I can hear my wife shouting: “Good girl! Were you helping Uncle Anthony write his Legatus article? My brilliant goddaughter!”

That pretty much sums up our attitude toward infants. And it is the proper attitude. As Chesterton observed, we reverence, love, and even fear children. We have nothing but affection for their limitations because they are so obviously limited. We treat any small victories of theirs as miracles—because they are miraculous. We recognize the supernatural quality of their actions—the fact that behind those tiny, bulbheaded bodies is an immortal soul made in the image and likeness of God—a soul utterly unique and greater than all the stars and planets put together. That’s the wonder of childhood.

And at the risk of again being cliché, may I offer a suggestion?

As Christmas approaches and we contemplate the Child in the manger—through whom the whole world was made—perhaps we should remember that adults, too, are miracles of creation. Adults, too, are astonishing and supernatural, unique and precious, human and divine. As such, don’t they deserve to be treated with a bit more indulgence when they make mistakes? Shouldn’t we view their shortcomings with the same tender affection and respect we have for the limitations of the young? That doesn’t mean we should ignore or condone any wrong they do — but merely that we should be compassionate, merciful, and charitable to all God’s children —even those who are grown-up.

Perhaps if we did that, it might bring some of that golden, sacred, holiness of childhood back into our lives just in time for the New Year.

ANTHONY DESTEFANO is a bestselling author of Christian books for adults and children, an associate director of Priests for Life, and a member of the Jersey Shore Chapter

Father Brown and the Ten Commandments: Selected Mystery Stories by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton
Ignatius Press, 2017
255 pages, softcover, $16.95

While you may have read these detective stories before, they probably weren’t arranged as they are here — with a story for each of the Ten Commandments, and they didn’t include John Peterson’s generous and helpful footnotes to help explain many of Chesterton’s historical references. Readers are once again introduced to Father Brown, and the distinctive role that the Catholic faith plays in helping him to solve crimes.

If you’re a fan of mysteries, or of Chesterton, you’ll enjoy this edited selection of his tales

Order: Ignatius Press, Amazon

Uncommon Benefits of A Common Enterprise

My (considerably) better half has been showing and breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for a decade and then some. Jackie’s kennel is named Top Meadow Cavaliers, after G.K. Chesterton’s Beaconsfield estate.

Christopher Check

Chesterton was not a spaniel man. He owned an Aberdeen Terrier named Quoodle, immortalized in a poem celebrating the things dogs appreciate, but which men, because of our fallen nature, do not: the “wind of winter forests” and “the breath of brides adorning” and the true smell of roses.

In his essay, “On Keeping a Dog,” Chesterton goes further and suggests that dogs understand us more clearly than we do: “But my dog knows I am a man, and you will not find the meaning of that word written in any book as clearly as it is written in his soul.” Chesterton wastes no time puzzling over the singular relationship between men and dogs. So much of it—like all of God’s gifts—is confined to the realm of mystery. He is content to say:

“Somehow this creature has completed my manhood; somehow, I cannot explain why, a man ought to have a dog. A man ought to have six legs; those other four legs are part of him. Our alliance is older than any of the passing and priggish explanations that are offered of either of us; before evolution was, we were.”

Needless to say, lines like those have never been penned about a goldfish or a ferret, much less about that doubtful Egyptian contribution to the world of pets, the housecat. In To Know Christ Jesus,Frank Sheed declares his belief that the Holy Family did not own a cat. I agree. A painting that hangs in the Prado, however, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo seems proofpositive that the Holy Family did own a dog. It is a sentimental scene showing Our Lady and St. Joseph looking on with fondness as the Child Jesus seems to tease the family dog with a bird he holds in his hand. Mary spins, and behind Joseph rest the plane, square and saw of a carpenter. Although spindle and workbench are in the background, for the soul who takes a moment to contemplate the painting, a deep reality of family life comes into focus. Undergirding domestic joy is something not common in modern households: common enterprise.

A few months ago, Jackie and I hosted a dinner for dear friends, a young lady and her fiancé. We gathered other married couples around some vermicelli with pesto and plenty of Chianti to share secrets of success. Jackie’s and my contribution was to extol the benefits of common enterprise, in our case, Top Meadow Cavaliers. Jackie runs the kennel, and I’m the unpaid kennel help, but it is something that brings us joy to work on together.

Three of four sons are largely launched, but when they were young, they were there to help with whelping; they took their shifts with new pups to be sure they were feeding and gaining weight, and they wrestled crates in and out of the van for trips to the vet and the show ring. Potential puppy buyers who came to the house and met our sons learned that our Cavaliers were bred and raised in a lively (euphemism for noisy) and loving home.

Our little kennel is hardly the kind of common enterprise that was at the center of the home in Nazareth. Saint Joseph actually supported the family with the family business! We are happy when puppy sales cover showing, breeding, and veterinary expenses. Nonetheless, whether we should call Top Meadow a family business or a hobby, the kennel is a common family activity, a kind of making our way in a world in which most homes are little more than mortgages on a sphere of consumption.

Long before the pills and promiscuity of the sexual revolution broke apart so many marriages, the Industrial Revolution broke the family bonds formed by common enterprise. First men and then women were taken—as my friend Allan Carlson puts it in his superb book of the same title—From Cottage to Work Station. More than a century later, common functions of the home, or better, functions of the home done in common, have been lost. Food preparation is an obvious example, but another is entertainment. Guitars, fiddles and storytelling are given over entirely to earbuds and screens, each family member with his own device. Could we be more atomized?

Whether you are a newlywed, are celebrating 26 years this May as Jackie and I are, or have lost count of your years of wedded bliss, it’s not too late to unite in a common enterprise. Indeed, homegrown entertainment is any easy place to start. Create stories or read to one another.

Your first litter won’t be far behind.

CHRISTOPHER CHECK is president of Catholic Answers, the largest lay-run apologetics and evangelization apostolate in the English-speaking world (learn more at Catholic.com). He is also a Legate in the San Diego Chapter.

Turning a new page

Joseph Pearce is the director of the Aquinas Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tenn. An accomplished Catholic writer, Pearce has written several books, including biographies on J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. A native of England who was involved in extremist politics as a young man, Pearce credits Chesterton’s writings for his conversion to the Catholic faith. Pearce is currently writing a biography on Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University and Legatus. Pearce spoke with Legatus magazine staff writer Brian Fraga.

Joseph Pearce

Joseph Pearce

How is your biography on Tom Monaghan coming?

I’m halfway through the writing. I expect to have it finished by the end of this year and hopefully published by sometime next year. I’ve known Tom on one level for many years, but now I’m working on a much deeper level. I have been spending an awful lot of time with him, not just interviewing him personally, but looking at old newspaper copies, unpublished manuscripts, all sorts of things about Tom’s life from the beginning until today.

What have you been learning about him?

People know the facts of Tom’s life, but in many ways the truth is something that puts flesh on those bones. What I want to do is bring out the humanity of Tom — from his childhood, where he loses his father at a young age, and the years in the orphanage, the struggles, the poverty he suffered as a young man, the betrayal of trust with people when he was young, and how he never allowed that to harden his heart. Basically what we see is a journey of a soul, a soul that is growing in wisdom and understanding and love. And of course we have this conversion experience. Tom was a lifelong Catholic, but he read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity in the late 1980s, and that had a profound impact on his life.

What role did Chesterton’s writing play in your conversion?

One thing I do have in common with Tom is that our lives have been changed radically by reading these great Christian evangelists. With me, reading Chesterton initially opened my eyes to a sense of wonder, to a sense of gratitude to the sheer impossibility and beauty of the material cosmos in which we find ourselves.

How can literature play a role in the conversion of individuals and culture?

The power of story really can change lives, and change hearts and change minds, and that’s what literature does. Literature is using the power of story to open our eyes to the truths of the Gospel — at least that’s what it should do. The great works of Western civilization, certainly right up until the 20th century for the most part, were expressions of the goodness, truth and beauty of God.

How did you discover your talent for writing?

I’m reminded of the Gospel parable by Christ of the talents. There are many things I’m very bad at, but thanks be to God, He gave me the talent of writing. I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, going back to my childhood. Even when I was in my bad place, I was editing magazines. I was using my writing — those talents God gave me — for evil and pernicious uses. But I think part of my own personal mission in life now is to undo the damage I did in my early life with the good that hopefully I’ve been doing now to evangelize the culture.