Rector’s Christmas Message 2020

The life journey of French writer, Charles Péguy (1873-1914), took him from strong agnosticism to quiet Catholicism, without losing either the socialism or the patriotism of his youth. He died in battle in the Great War, on the eve of the Battle of the Marne. Péguy was an ordinary man, flawed and no saint, but he discovered something at the core of Christianity, and indeed of Christmas. He is perhaps best remembered for a long free verse poem called ‘The Portico of the Second Virtue’ which has been published in more than sixty editions in France and is still in print. Few works have had a greater impact, or inspired more leaders and ordinary people alike.

In the poem, Péguy takes the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity – portraying them as the three daughters of God. He suggests that the greatest of them is not charity, as St Paul famously proposes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, but hope. Faith and charity get all the limelight and kudos, the poet suggests, but it is ‘little hope’, the smallest of the three who attracts him more. To take three small excerpts:

Faith is a faithful spouse.
Charity is a mother burning with devotion.
But hope is a very small girl.

I am, God says, Master of three virtues.

Charity is she who extends herself over the centuries.
But my little hope
is the one who each morning
says good day to us …

 Faith is a soldier, a captain who defends a fortress.
A town belonging to the King,
On the marches of Gascony, on the marches of Lorraine.
Charity is a doctor, a Little Sister of the poor,
Who nurses the sick, who nurses the wounded,
The poor subjects of the King,
On the marches of Gascony, on the marches of Lorraine.
But it is my little hope
Who says good-day to the poor man and the orphan …

 Faith is a great tree, an oak rooted in the heart of France,
And under the wings of that tree,
Charity, my daughter charity shelters all the distress of the world.
And my little hope is only that little promise of a bud which shows itself at the very beginning of April.

It is the very ordinariness of hope that endears her. She is of and for the everyday. She is there, in the stuff of daily life, untrumpeted but reassuringly present. Yes, certainly, great feats and great people can inspire and ennoble human endeavour with their faith and charity, but perhaps it is little hope that holds our lives together.

The gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and Luke carry the same sense. Jesus comes among people not on a chariot of fire from the clouds, but as a little baby. What could be more natural and human? Yet we so often hear the word ‘miracle’ associated with entry of a newborn into a family – ‘the miracle of birth’. It is so, because a birth is a reason for wonderful hope: a new life, new possibilities, new promise.

Christmas is a feast of hope. Of what might be. Of what can be. Of what will be. As every little newborn is cradled by its mother for the first time, such hope fills her. Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have been the same. In becoming human, God has transformed what being human means.

As this Christmas of 2020 approaches, we are only too aware of our world’s need for this gentle spirit of hope. Some years ago, Marists were invited by the then Superior General, Brother Charles Howard, to understand their work with young people as being primarily ‘sowers of seeds of hope’. It is not a bad role description. Every educator, every parent, indeed all of us, are called to this. Indeed, it is why this College exists.

On behalf of all at Aquinas, I wish the Aquinas family in all parts of our country and our planet, all the joy, peace and, especially, hope of Christmas.

Brother Michael



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