Reading Selection From Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope

April 30, 2012

“As a literature teacher, I’m marking the Easter season in one way I know how: assigning books that are suited to the season. This week we’re reading that lyrical, enormously uplifting work of Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. A gifted poet, Péguy lived among the poor, defended the innocent Dreyfus, embraced and then saw through socialism, and finally was led by his love for St. Joan of Arc to renew his childhood faith before he died in one of the very first battles of World War I. But in his 40 years he penned some of the greatest Catholic books of the 20th century, and this is one of them. It focuses on what Péguy calls the most neglected theological virtue: “the little girl, Hope.” His earthy, mystical lyrics depict Hope as a playful, energetic, eight- or nine-year-old child, beside whom Faith and Charity are weary middle-aged moms, who draw the energy to keep on moving from the innocent glee of the girl who tugs them forward by the hand.”
John Zmirak in Crisis Magazine

“Péguy, who was certainly not a theologian given to compartmentalizing, had brought his insights, once achieved, to completion in a breakthrough to a comprehensive theology of hope — by means of patient contemplation of the one reality that is at once natural and supernatural, by an unceasing process of approfondissement and assimilation. And this theology of hope makes its presence felt today, gently but irresistibly, by a structural shift in the whole theological edifice…

So the whole of Péguy’s art and theology flow more and more towards prayer without one ever being able to say precisely whether this prayer is dialogue or a monologue on God’s part. It is a dialogue with God but one which is constantly developing into a monologue of God the Father, addressed without distinction to his Son, to the men he has created and to himself. It is a form of “theology as Trinitarian conversation,” never realized prior to Péguy, which could only be risked by a poet using a simple and popular style of utterance that avoids any show of sublimity and yet does not for a moment degenerate into “mateyness” and false familiarity. Only faith in the Holy Spirit can allow God to speak in such a way.”
 Hans Urs von Balthasar


Look at the little one, says God, how she marches.
She would skip rope in the procession
She marches, she moves ahead by skipping a rope, for a bet.
She’s so happy
(Alone among them all)
And she’s so sure that she’ll never get tired.

Children walk exactly like little puppies.
(Moreover, they play like puppies too)
When a puppy goes for a walk with his masters
He comes and he goes. He comes back, he leaves again. He goes ahead, he returns.
He makes the trip twenty times.
Covers twenty times the distance.
It’s because as a matter of fact he’s not going somewhere.
His masters are the ones who are going somewhere.
He’s not going anywhere at all.

What he’s interested in is precisely making the trip.
Likewise with children.
When you make a trip with your children,
When you run an errand
Or when you go to Mass or to Vespers with your children,
Or to say the rosary
Or between Mass and Vespers when you take a walk with your children.
They trot along in front of you like little puppies.
They run ahead, they lag behind.
They come and they go. They play around.
They jump, They make the trip twenty times.
It’s because as a matter of fact they’re not going somewhere.
They’re not interested in going somewhere.
They’re not going anywhere at all.

The grown-ups are the ones who are going somewhere
The grown-ups, Faith, Charity.
The parents are the ones who are going somewhere.
To Mass, to Vespers, to say the rosary.
To the river, to the forest.
To the fields, to the woods, to work.
Who do their best, who strain themselves in order to get somewhere
Or even to go somewhere to go for a walk.

But the children are only interested in making the trip.
To come and to go and to jump. To wear out the road with their legs
Never to have enough of it. And to feel their legs growing.
They drink up the road. They thirst for the road. They never have enough of it
They’re stronger than the road. They’re stronger than fatigue.
They never have enough of it (just like hope). They run faster than the road.
They don’t go, they don’t run in order to get there. They get there in order to run. They get there in order to go. Just like hope. They don’t spare their steps. The idea doesn’t even occur to them
To spare anything at all.

It’s the grown-ups who are sparing as they’re forced to be. But the child Hope
Never spares anything
It’s the parents who are sparing. Unhappy virtue, alas, that they should have to make a virtue of it.
They’re forced to. As strong as my daughter Faith is,
Solid as a rock, she’s forced to be sparing.
As ardent as my daughter Charity is,
Burning like a fine wood fire
That warms the poor man by the fireplace
The poor man and the child and the starving man,
She’s forced to be sparing.
Only the child Hope
Is she alone who never spares anything.

She doesn’t spare her steps, the little devil, she doesn’t spare ours.
Just as she doesn’t spare the flowers and the leaves in the grand Processions,
And the roses of France and the beautiful Lilies of France
With the undrooping collars,
So in the little, in the long procession, in the hard procession of life she doesn’t spare anything
Neither her steps nor ours.
In the ordinary, in the gray, in the common procession
(Because it’s not every day that you have Corpus Christi.)

She doesn’t spare her steps, and since she treats us like herself
 She doesn’t spare ours either.
She doesn’t spare herself; and likewise, she doesn’t spare others either.
She makes us start the same thing over twenty times.
She makes us return twenty times to the same place.
Which is generally a place of disappointment
(Earthly disappointment.)

It doesn’t matter to her. She’s like a child. She is a child.
It doesn’t matter to her to take the grown-ups for a ride.”
Earthly wisdom is none of her business.
She doesn’t calculate like we do.
She calculates, or rather she doesn’t calculate, she counts (without noticing) like a child.
Like someone who has her whole life in front of her.

It doesn’t matter to her to take us for a ride.
She believes, she expects us to be like her.
She doesn’t spare our sufferings. And our trials. She thinks
That we have our whole lives ahead of us.
How she deceives herself. How right she is
For don’t we indeed have our whole Life ahead of us.
The only one that matters. Our whole Eternal life.

And doesn’t the old man have as much life ahead of him as the baby in tin’ crib.
If not more. Because for the baby in the crib the eternal Life,
The only one that matters, is hidden by this miserable life
That he has in front of him. First. It’s in front. By this miserable life on earth.
He has to endure, he has to go through this whole miserable life on earth
Before he can get to, before he can reach, before he can attain the Life
Which is the only life that matters. The old man is lucky.
He has wisely left behind this miserable life
Which had hidden the eternal Life from him
And now he is free. He has put behind him what was before.

He sees clearly. He’s full of life. There’s no longer anything between him and life.
He’s standing on the edge of the light.
He’s on the shore itself. He’s at the limit. He’s on the brink of etenial life.
We are right in saying that old men are wise.
Just as the child is right to think
That we are like her.
That we have our whole life ahead of us.
That we have it as much as she does. That it matters for her
To make us make the trip twenty times.
She’s right. What matters
(And to make us return twenty times to the same place
Which is generally a place of disappointment
Of earthly disappointment) what matters
Is not to go here or there, is not to go someplace
To arrive someplace
Some earthly place.

What matters is to go, always to go, and (on the contrary) not to arrive.
What matters is to go simply in the simple procession of ordinary days,
The great procession toward salvation. The days pass in procession
And we pass in procession through the days. What’s important
Is the going. To keep going. That’s what matters. And how you go.
It’s the road you travel. It’s the traveling itself.
And how you do it.

You make twenty times the same trip on earth.
To come to an end twenty times.
And twenty times you end up, you come to, you attain
With difficulty, with much effort, with much straining,
The point of disappointment.
Of earthly disappointment.

And you say: This little Hope has tricked me again.
I never should’ve trusted her. It’s the twentieth time that she’s tricked me.
Earthly wisdom is not her strong point.
I will never believe her again. (You will believe her again, you will always believe her).
I’ll never get taken in again. — Fools that you are.
What does it matter the place you wanted to go to.
Where you thought you were going.

Come on now; you’re not children, you know perfectly well
That the place you were going to would be a disappointment.
An Earthly disappointment. It was already disappointing beforehand. So why did you want to go there. Because you understand very well the game of this little Hope.

Why do you always follow this child of disappointment.
Why do you get yourself involved in this little one’s game.
All the time, and the twentieth time more firstly than the first.
Why do you go along of your own accord.
All the time, and the twentieth time more readily than the first.

It’s because in your heart you know very well what she is.
And what she does. And that she fools us.
Twenty times.
Because she is the only one who does not fool us.
And does not disappoint us

Twenty times
All through life
Because she is the only one who does not disappoint us
For Life.

And it’s thus that she is the only one who does not disappoint us. Because those twenty times that she makes us take the same trip
On earth, according to human wisdom, those are twenty times of increasing difficulty
Of repetition, of the same thing
Twenty times in vain, right on top of each other
Because they all went by the same road
To the same place, because it was the same route.

But for God’s wisdom
Nothing is ever nothing. All is new. All is other.
All is different.
In God’s sight nothing repeats itself.
Those twenty times that she made us take the same trip to get to the same point
Of futility

From the human perspective it’s the same point, the same trip, the same twenty times.
But that’s the deception.
That’s the false calculation and the false reckoning.
Being the human reckoning.

And this is why it doesn’t disappoint: Those twenty times are not the same. If those twenty times are twenty times of trial(s) and if the route is a path to sanctity
Then along the same path the second time doubles the first
And the third time triples it and the twentieth time multiplies it twenty fold.
What does it matter to arrive here or there, and always at the same place
Which is a place of (earthly) disappointment.
What matters is the path, and which path you take, and what you do on it
How you take it.
It’s the trip alone that matters.

If the path is a path to sanctity
In God’s sight, a path of trials
He who takes it twice is twice as holy
In God’s sight, and he who takes it three times
Is three times as holy, and he who takes it
Twenty times, twenty times more holy. That’s how God reckons.
That’s how God sees things.

The same path is not the same the second time around.
Every day you say, all your days are alike
On earth all days are the same.
Departing from the same mornings they convey you to the same evenings.
But they do not lead you to the same eternal evenings.
Every day, you say, looks the same — Yes, every earthly day.
But have no fear, my children, they do not at all look like
The last day, which is different from every other.

Every day, you say, repeats itself. — No, they are added
To the eternal treasury of days.
The bread of each day to that of the day before.
The suffering of each day
(Even though it repeats the suffering of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of sorrows

The prayer of each day
(Even though it repeats the prayer of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of prayers. of each day
(Even though it repeats the merit of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of merits.
On earth everything repeats itself. In the same matter.
But in heaven everything counts
And everything increases. The grace of each day
(Even though it repeats the grace of the day before)
Is added to the eternal treasury of graces. And it’s for this that the young

Alone doesn’t spare anything.

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One comment

  1. Absolutely delightful! Had heard ( perhaps part of it ) on Vatican Radio when a Fr. Murray did the reading–and couldn’t wait to have Google help me find it so I a can purchase it.

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