Thanksgiving has come and gone, and in my Christian Manhood class that can only mean one thing: The Little Prince.
For years The Little Prince has been the defining text of a course created by Jim Skerl ’74 way back in the fall of 1981. I had heard of this classic children’s tale, but had never read it until Jim gave me a copy. Because I did not have the opportunity to experience the Christian Manhood class as a student I did not have the context that would have enabled me to see the true depth of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s vision. I thought the book was cute, charming, and a bit enigmatic, but I was not enthralled and I definitely did not see it as one of those life-changing books for which I would become an evangelist.
Fast-forward 35 years and it is the summer of 2016. I am pondering how I will approach my mission of taking over the Christian Manhood class as Jim’s successor. I decide that it would be a good idea to keep several ‘markers’ from the original class to honor Jim’s memory. I also wanted to bridge the generations by offering to my students what Jim offered to their fathers, uncles, older brothers and cousins. The last thing I wanted to hear was that I ruined the course by getting rid of ‘fill-in-the-blank.’ After looking through all of Jim’s notes I decided – I think, correctly – that the ‘fill-in-the-blank’ key that unlocked the magic of Christian Manhood was The Little Prince.
Once I committed to this text there was no turning back, and I lost myself down a number of rabbit holes as I tried to take what I knew from Jim’s notes and add my own twists and insights. What has emerged is a two week marathon, complete with a (now) 154 slide PowerPoint presentation that takes the book to places I could never have imagined, filled with the fruits of research that has turned The Little Prince into my personal Rosetta Stone.
Saint-Exupéry felt that the greatest problem in the world was spiritual decay and his goal in writing The Little Prince was “to revive in people some sense of spiritual meaning.” This book’s ability to lead several generations of Saint Ignatius students to lives of greater spiritual depth is testimony to the success of the author’s quest. They can’t help but be better people after imbibing on lines like: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly” and “what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The line that they remember most, and are happiest to quote is, “It is the time that you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” Saint-Exupéry used the Little Prince’s rose as a metaphor for those we love, and for him it represented his wife Consuelo. The fact that he used the word “waste” is crucial to understanding what love is all about, and it recalls the lesson given to us by Jesus in the Parable of the Lost Son.
This parable is usually referred to as that of the ‘Prodigal’ Son, but even more prodigal or wasteful than the son is the father. The father literally wastes his love on his son, a son who has shown that he in no way deserves what his father gives him. This wastefulness or prodigality on the part of the father is meant not only to show us the love that the Father has for each of us, but, maybe more importantly, the love that we are to have for each other.
If what we call love is truly to be love then it must, as St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, look to the best interest of the other and not the self. If it looks to the self then it is – literally – selfish, and therefore isn’t really love at all. It is this insight that draws me to a different quote as my personal favorite, told to the Little Prince by the Fox, and then repeated back by the Little Prince: “You are responsible for your rose…I am responsible for my rose.”
Between Black Friday and Cyber Monday we have had countless opportunities to be prodigal with our money, but even more important than this is that wastefulness spoken of by Saint-Exupéry – the prodigality of time. The Season of Advent, which begins this weekend, is a perfect time for us to focus on this wastefulness of responsibility – a wastefulness that is spoken of in The Little Prince and points to the Prince who also happens to be the King of Kings.