Professor Peter Kreeft is a widely sought after speaker on Catholic apologetics, and he specializes in the philosophy of religion and the thought of C.S. Lewis. Professor Kreeft has authored over seventy books. He joined the Boston College philosophy faculty in 1965. The following piece is excerpted from his book, “Before I Go.”
I used to be wise. Then I grew up.
When I was about eight, I think, I formulated my first general philosophical principle: “a little understanding is better than a lot of suffering.” I still think that’s one of the best rules for a happy marriage. It’s probably even a good rule for international diplomacy.
At about the same age, driving home from church one Sunday morning and having been confused about something I was taught in Sunday School, I checked it out with my father, who I knew was wise in the ways of God,
“Dad, all that stuff we learn we’re supposed to do in church and Sunday School – it’s all just one thing, isn’t it?”
He was rightly suspicious of childish oversimplifications, so he said, “What do you mean? What one thing?”
“Well, we just have to ask Jesus what He wants us to do and then do it, right?”
I can still remember his look of pleased surprise. “Yes, that’s right, son. You’re right.” My father was a wise man. He was probably wiser at the age of eight, too.
At about the same age, I lusted after an expensive Lionel electric train for Christmas. I had never received such an expensive present, and I was afraid my father couldn’t afford it. I probably pestered him for many days before he sat me down, a few days before Christmas and said, “Son, do you know what Christmas means?”
“I think so.”
“Tell me, then.”
“It’s about love.”
“Right. And why do we have it on December 25th?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do. Whose birthday is that?”
“Right. So what does Jesus’ birth have to do with love?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll give you a hint. Why do we give gifts to each other on Christmas?”
“Because we love each other.”
“Good! Now what does that have to do with Jesus’ birth?”
“God gave us Jesus on Christmas because He loves us.”
“Good! You know the meaning of Christmas. So you know why your mother and I give you gifts, right?”
“Because you love me.”
“Right. Now suppose we can’t afford to give you that expensive Lionel train you want so much. Would you still know we love you?”
At this point my selfish little calculating brain went into panic mode. Which answer would get me the train? Could I blackmail him into buying it for me if I said no? That didn’t feel right somehow. I just couldn’t figure out what answer would work, so I did what most kids do in a last resort emergency: when all else fails, tell the truth. “Sure, Dad, I know you love me even if you can’t afford to buy me the train.”
“Thank you, Son. You’ve made me so very happy.”
But I wasn’t happy, because I thought I had given up the train and given him a way out of having to buy it for me. But on Christmas morning there it was, under the tree.
Well, the train is rusting away in the attic and not running anymore. But Dad’s lesson and his love are still running round my track with a full head of steam.