Advent Art: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
By Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá, O.P. | Br Pablo draws some lessons from the Little Prince for this time of Advent.
I know – the Little Prince is not a work of sacred art. Strictly speaking, it is not even a piece of visual art but a tale, written by the French pilot Antoine de Saint-Exupéry only a few years before his plane went missing during the Second World War. But wouldn’t you agree that all beauty, all goodness and truth lead to God? This little tale, I believe, has something important to help us prepare ourselves in this time of Advent.
The story opens with a pilot who has crashed in the middle of the Sahara Desert, ‘more isolated than a shipwrecked sailor on a raft in the middle of the ocean.’ He is suddenly startled to hear a young voice: ‘Draw me a sheep,’ says the Little Prince. Somewhat confused, he makes the following drawing in his notebook:
‘No, this sheep is already very sickly,’ replies this little person. ‘Make me another.’ So the pilot makes another drawing, and yet a third, but the Little Prince is not satisfied.
The pilot is in a hurry to fix his engine, so he finally sketches the following:
‘This is only his box,’ he adds, apologetically. ‘The sheep you asked for is inside.’
But the Little Prince replies: ‘that is exactly the way I wanted it!’
This strange encounter in the desert illustrates a ‘secret’ the Little Prince will reveal later in the story: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.
In the world where our pilot lived, grown-ups took themselves very seriously. They preferred to devote their time to geography, mathematics, history, than to painting or story-telling. They pursued being applauded and respected; they valued wearing suits and ties; they laboured to number the firmament’s stars, to capture the contours of the oceans on a map. Saint-Exupéry notes, ‘all grown-ups were once children – although few of them remember it.’
Pope Benedict XVI was once asked in an interview, ‘as an internationally renowned scholar, can you actually believe that Jesus was born of a Virgin and worked miracles, that he rose from the dead? Isn’t that the sort of thing children believe in?’ He replied by quoting the Little Prince, and concluded: ‘the cleverness of our age causes us, ironically, to overlook the essential.’ The simple of heart can see further than the wise and the learned.
A voice cries in the wilderness: ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ In this second week of Advent, the liturgy brings to memory John the Baptist, who wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Four hundred years had passed in Israel since Malachi prophesied, and God had not visited his people. The Law and its works had become barren, the Prophets had fallen silent. And there arose a last prophet in Israel, John born of Elizabeth and Zechariah, preaching a baptism of repentance, and testifying of one to come after him.
No one has ever seen God, adds the fourth Gospel after telling us about this new prophet. The only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. Jesus’ contemporaries could behold the Lamb of God and yet they did not believe in him. Their eyes looked and they did not see, their ears heard but they did not understand. The apostles are blessed because they witnessed what many prophets and righteous men longed to see and hear; but greater still is the blessing on those who have not seen, and yet believe.
What is essential is invisible to the eye. What is this wisdom, this form of knowledge hidden from our senses?
The Little Prince was in love with a rose. Not a common rose, but unique in all the universe: the one rose he had watered, protected, cared for. This was his rose and there was none other like it. It was the time he had wasted for his rose that made his rose so important.
John the Baptist, the friend of the Bridegroom, comes to announce an utterly unique event: the Wedding Feast of the Lamb, where Jesus, who is in love with us, and has endless time to waste on us, seeks to join himself to us. Love is its own knowledge, and by love alone can we recognise Him who made us, and before whom our senses fail.
In this time of Advent, as the days grow darker and we prepare ourselves for Christmas, let us then come in prayer before the invisible God, willing to spend time with Him, to allow Him to love us, so we can recognise Him, for it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.
MORE ON: ADVENT
Other posts in the series:
- Introduction: Expectation and Promise, by Br Bede Mullens, O.P.
- Awaiting the New Kingdom, by Br Vincent Antony Löning, O.P.
- William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, by Br Bede Mullens, O.P.
- Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, by Br Gabriel Theis, O.P.
- Alexander Ivanov, The Angel Gabriel Appearing to Zechariah, by Br Albert Elias Robertson, O.P.