Surprisingly modern insights from an old children's book

By Jeff Hedglen

Director of Young Adult and Campus Ministry

North Texas Catholic

6/19/2017

I recently started seeing a priest for spiritual direction. The first book he recommended was a pretty obvious choice, An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, filled with short, thought-provoking, spiritually challenging meditations. The second book he gave me was a bit of a surprise, a children’s story dating back to 1880. It was quite a shocker to find such deep spiritual lessons, as well as a reflection on modernity from Disney’s version of Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby.

This story tells of Brer Fox and Brer Bear’s plan to catch Brer Rabbit. They basically take a doll, cover it with tar and set it on a log along the path Brer Rabbit travels. Brer Rabbit mistakes the doll for another animal and tries to converse with it, but when the doll does not respond, he gets mad and punches the tar-covered doll. Now Rabbit is stuck to the doll, and the more he tries to get away the more stuck he gets. 

Since he is caught, Fox and Bear appear and proclaim that Rabbit is invited to dinner, that is, to BE dinner. Rabbit has an idea and says: “Sure, but whatever you do, please don’t fling me into that briar patch!” Of course, that is exactly what Fox and Bear do. Much to their dismay, Rabbit is not hurt by the briar patch. Rabbit exclaims at the end that he was “born and raised in the briar patch,” thus he is at home surrounded by thorns.

This story came to mind at Mass recently when the Gospel from John 14 reveals that Jesus and the Father are going to send “the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept.” Far too often what the world sees as folly, Jesus sees as salvation. Just like the Fox and Bear thought the briar patch would be the perfect torture for Rabbit, so too the world does not understand the power of the Cross.

This is but one example of how secularity, and the modern world’s view of truth, gets it wrong. Secularity is a word that refers to the modern world and how truth is defined. Within secularity truth is defined by the individual. There is no ultimate truth or source of truth. Pope Benedict called it a dictatorship of relativism. Secularity’s influence is 200-300 years old and it really rears its head in today’s world, but in many ways, it all goes back to the Garden of Eden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Secularity feasts on the fruit of this tree. 
 

Prior to this relativistic, secular, modern worldview, the number one arbiter of truth was Divine Revelation. A transcendent, unseen God was believed to be on our side and the more we discovered about the created world the more we understood the Creator. Now, too often, the prevailing opinion wonders how a loving God could let bad things happen to good people. 

This is the world we find ourselves in, and as dire as the situation may seem outside Church doors, God is not worried. The ones who might be worried are all those who sit in pews every Sunday, for we are the missionaries to the secular world. We are the ones who, through work, family, friends, and other relationships encounter everyone from atheists to fallen away Catholics, to those who are spiritual but not religious, and every possible understanding of God imaginable. But again, God is not worried. He has you! If you feel you are not up to the task, just remember the words of St. Teresa of Kolkata: “I know God will not give me anything I cannot handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” 

Just like Brer Rabbit, when we get thrown into the briar patch of secularity, we know the Cross not only brings salvation, but it is the doorway to a truth that transcends the world we live in and leads to the world yet to come.

I recently started seeing a priest for spiritual direction. The first book he recommended was a pretty obvious choice, An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, filled with short, thought-provoking, spiritually challenging meditations. The second book he gave me was a bit of a surprise.

Published (until 6/19/2030)
Back