Our Lord “wants not only to be loved in a Child, but in your child”: Christmas wisdom from Caryll Houselander

I just finished Caryll Houselander’s 1947 novel The Dry Wood (beautiful overall, though not without flaws) and found a stunning passage on the mystery of the suffering of innocents, an apt follow-up to the one I posted earlier. The scene is the funeral of a child; the speaker is a priest, delivering the homily; and the words carry particular meaning this Christmas, in the wake of the Newtown tragedy:

No one can understand or explain why innocent little children are allowed to suffer and die. Some people, meaning well no doubt, try to comfort the parents by saying, “It is God’s will”—that is silly and blasphemous. Suffering and death are never God’s will. His will is for us to have life and happiness. “I have come,” Our Blessed Lord said, “that they might have life and have it abundantly.” No, dear Brethren, it is not God, it is we who, by our sins, have brought suffering and death into the world. But God in His mercy uses these things for love. First of all, God became man, and suffered and died Himself to atone for us. He could have come in glory, and have atoned by one tear, but He chose to come as a little baby, naked, cold, hungry, dependent, and to suffer all that we do. You see He did not only want to be worshipped but to be loved. No one could help loving a poor, needy little child, but that is not enough for Our Lord. He wants not only to be loved in a Child, but in your child. He wants the best, and tenderest, and most intimate love we have got. And he wants it from us all, not only from the saints, but from the weak and the sinful. So, Brethren, God gives Christ’s life to every child in Baptism. …

When I, your priest, pour water on the heads of your little babies and say those wonderful words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father  and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,” God makes that little one, as we say, “Alter Christus”—Another Christ—and whatever he suffers has the power of Christ’s suffering to atone for sin, to heal the wounds of the world.

But, Brethren, although we all suffer all our life long, we who are grown up have nearly always lost the full power, we have let the Christ life grow feeble in us, the will of Christ in us falters.

A little child keeps Christ’s power to love unspoilt, and before God that little one has the power of Christ’s suffering on the cross.

— From “Mass of the Holy Angels,” chapter 23 of Caryll Houselander’s The Dry Wood

Image of the Christ Child found on Abbey Roads.

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If you would like to read more on how the suffering of children takes on profound meaning in light of Christ’s Incarnation and Passion, I talk about the redemptive value of suffering in this interview, and discuss it in depth in My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

  • Frank Gibbons

    I just finished “The Dry Wood”. It is a humbling and remarkable book. It is a beautiful meditation on seeing Christ in our brokenness and a wonderful hymn to the beauty of the Eucharist. And unless I misread her, Ms. Houselander use the strongest words I’ve ever read about contraception. I sent a message to Carl Olsen suggesting that IgnatiusPress consider publishing it.


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