Kermit and the Clock

A talk by Father Bernard J. Ezaki

Delivered at the Stand Up for Life Essay Banquet

Saint Francis of Assisi Parish, Allentown, Pennsylvania

14 January 2018

 

I bet some of you are familiar with the children’s author Robert McCloskey.  He is probably best known for his little book Make Way for Ducklings, but he also wrote and illustrated a series of marvelous stories about a little boy named Homer Price.  Homer is a likeable, intelligent lad who often has insights into problems that his elders seem to miss.  In one of these stories,[1] Homer’s grandfather tells of a town in Ohio called Sparrow Courthouse.  Let me paraphrase Grandpa Hercules’ tale.

 

Now the citizens of Sparrow Courthouse thought pretty highly of themselves.  They were always putting on airs.  Atop their courthouse, which looked more like a giant wedding cake, they built a clock tower.  And in the clock tower, they installed a fancy, new-fangled clock that they had shipped all the way from Europe and had hauled over the mountains by way of oxcart.

               The people of Sparrow Courthouse were certainly proud of their clock, and because of it, they thought they were better than everyone else in the state of Ohio.  While all other folks got up with the sun and went to bed when it was dark, the citizens of Sparrow Courthouse insisted on regulating everything they did according to their new clock.  They were mighty puffed up with pride.

               Over time, though, the folks started noticing that the sun began to rise and set a little earlier every day.  But as long as their fancy clock was a-ticking and a-tocking, they thought nothing of it.  After three months or so, the people were getting up just as the sun was setting and going to bed at sunrise.  It actually got to the point where they called daytime night and nighttime day!  At bedtime, they’d draw down their shades real tight to keep out the sun, and during their waking hours, they’d light lamps to make their way through the darkness.  They were so proud that, of all the cities in Ohio, theirs was the only one in which the sun behaved in such a strange way.  Why, they even petitioned the state capital for special recognition.  And all the while, the citizens of Sparrow Courthouse kept running their lives according to their fancy, new-fangled, European, timepiece.  My, they were proud of that clock.

 

Well, it didn’t take long for Homer’s grandfather to see what the problem was.

 

It seems that the city’s sparrows had gotten into the habit of alighting on the hands of that courthouse clock, and they fouled up all its workings.  The people of Sparrow Courthouse were sure dumbfounded to learn that, even while thinking themselves more sophisticated than everyone else, they were actually operating under a delusion.  Their clock was all gummed up.

 

You know, we might laugh at the silly people of Sparrow Courthouse, but I wonder if we’re really any wiser than they are.  You see, instead of regulating our lives according to the good light of Natural Law–the law that God puts into our hearts—instead of regulating our lives according to Natural Law, we’ve been running our lives according to consciences that are just as fouled up (or fowl-ed up) as the Sparrow Courthouse clock.

What, mes amis, has been gumming up the works of our consciences?  Not sparrows!  One of the things that has been gumming up our consciences is the belief that children are at best an inconvenience and at worst a punishment.  As a result, we’ve gotten to the point where we’ve been calling good evil and evil good.  Our Lord’s terrible prophecy, uttered on the way to Calvary, seems to have come true:

 

Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, “Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.”[2]

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not just talking about the 1973 Roe versus Wade Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in all fifty states.  I’m not just talking about the legalization of birth control in the 1960s.  I’m talking about an insidious prejudice that goes far deeper than that and has invaded the hearts of even very good people.

Here’s a personal story:

When, at the age of twenty-six, I decided to enter seminary, I went to see good Dr. Longenhagen for my seminary physical.  After a thorough examination, Dr. Longenhagen looked at me and said, “You know, God’s ways are certainly mysterious.”

“What do you mean?” I responded.

He went on to explain.  “I think you know, Bernard, that your mother had been a novice with the M.S.C. Sisters (the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart) in Hyde Park.  And I think you know that she had left the convent in order to marry your father, Dr. Ezaki.”

“I know that, Doctor,” I said.

“Well,” he continued, “you may not know that when you were born and when it was apparent that you would be blind, Dr. So-and-So on the hospital staff proclaimed that your blindness was obviously a punishment from God for your mother’s having left the convent.”

“What?” I gasped.  I was in shock.

That was obviously a crass, unfeeling thing to say about my mother on the part of that doctor, and the thought that Mom had to live for so many years with that comment weighing on her heart almost broke my heart.  And besides, it’s not easy being the personification of the wrath of God.

But what really shocked me was that Dr. So-and-So, who shall be nameless, the doctor who had made the disparaging comment in the first place, was a very decent and good man.  As a young physician, for example, he had done awesome work in helping former inmates of Nazi concentration camps.  As I said, Dr. So-and-so was a wonderful man, a better man than I am, Gung Din!  And yet somehow he, like many of us, was imbued with the idea that children could be a punishment from God.  If any of you believe that children are a punishment, I wish you would explain it to me, because I just don’t get it.  How could a child be anything but a blessing?

People might argue that children are a blessing only when they are wanted.  I’m not so sure.  Sometimes blessings come wrapped in the most unexpected packages.  I love the words of the song “Blessings” sung by Laura Story.  Laura asks God:

 

What if my greatest disappointments
Or the aching of this life
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy?
And what if trials of this life–
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights–
Are Your mercies in disguise?

 

At every Mass, we hear Jesus proclaimed as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  Lord Jesus, Lamb of God, take away our sins.  And also take away our delusion that a child is somehow an inconvenience or even a punishment.  Jesus, please reset the clocks of our consciences, not according to our own perverse whims but according to Your moral law.

Now, lest I end this talk on a downer, let me make reference to one more children’s story.  In the 2011 Muppet Movie, Walter, the main character, is having a conversation with Kermit the Frog.

Walter says to Kermit, “You give people the greatest gift that can ever be given.”

Kermit responds, “Children?”

“No,” Walter says, “the other gift.”

“Ice cream?” asks Kermit.

“No, no!” Walter says.  “After that.”

“Laughter?”

“Yes!  The third greatest gift ever!”

So there you have it, crew!  From the lips—I wonder if frogs have lips—from the mouth of Kermit the Frog himself, the three greatest gifts are in order: first, children; second, ice cream; third, laughter!  Later on in the film, Miss Piggy tells Kermit that she wants to marry him so that they can have lots of tadpoles together.  I’m still trying to figure that one out.  You get the message.  Far from being an inconvenience, far from being a punishment, children are the greatest gift ever!  Let’s remember that, not only during the annual March for Life; but let’s remember that always and teach it to our children.  With the help of Homer Price, we’ll teach them just how easy it is for us to get our consciences fouled up.  And with the help of Kermit the Frog, we’ll teach them that children are better than laughter and even better than ice cream itself.

[1] Centerburg Tales: More Adventures of Homer Price, the chapter entitled “Sparrow Courthouse.”

[2] Luke 23:28-29.