On Something Childish

NOTE: A Synod on the Amazon 2019 special report: the Papal Posse on EWTN’s “The World Over.” Click here to watch. 

Let me begin with Bambino Gesù. I do not refer to the Baby Jesus of faith and Scripture, but to the pediatric hospital at Rome.

It was the name that first caught my attention, in a news story some time ago, and I have since been curious about the place.

The gentle reader who expects breaking news from me, will rest discontented. I know no more than anyone could, who has examined the place from a distance of four 4,000 miles. I know no one who works there, and no one has tipped me off to a scandal.

Add that my sources are mostly in Italian, a language I have never mastered, and that I have no degree in nursing, though my mother once governed a ward in a Sick Children’s Hospital. (By journalistic standards, that would make me an expert.)

If one looks it up in Wikipedia, the first thing one “learns” is that this Ospedale Pediatrico has been under investigation for corruption at least twice. Once, it was accused of making a profit. Once, nothing irregular was found.

According to my late mother, a hospital without a scandal in it somewhere could not be a real hospital; and an investigation that does not find something must have suppressed what it found.

As the news media may not be aware, life in the typical large organization goes on day to day, without memorable incidents. Whether honest or not, the average worker gets on with his (often boring) tasks. Only those who are paying close attention would be likely to notice anything.

This is also true for small organizations.

Generations of workers have learnt that there is safety in mediocrity, and a good reason to avoid committing crimes is that they attract attention. (I have sometimes praised cowardice for this reason.)

It is important to understand: that civilized life depends on quiet mediocrity. It is also important to understand that when something good happens – some extraordinary act of charity, mercy, compassion, whatever – it will be ignored by the world. Only those directly involved will be “touched” by it.

This is not a complaint, or a criticism. It is an obvious observation on the way of the world. Almost everything in it is invisible.

Compounding this, it is in the nature of angels (both good and evil, apparently) to do most of their works anonymously. Only humans have a motive – usually bad – to take credit. (This is one of the reasons we are so much less effective.)

The very idea of the Bambino Gesù fascinates me, however. The name conjures an innocence that defies the modern world. To a contemporary, who gets most of his information from Internet and news media, it is almost offensive in its unselfconsciousness.

We can know, immediately from the name, that this institution was founded in another century. It conveys an unreconstructed theological idea. It suggests that each child be considered, as if he were the infant Christ, with a love that surpasses the sentimental.

AP photo/Domenico Stinellis

It evokes a lost world in which, for instance, contraception and abortion were not debating topics. They were crimes; and even those who did commit them did not pretend that they were not.

It was a world in which the obligation to help the helpless went without saying, even when the obligation was avoided or ignored.

Fragments of that world, of course, survive into our time, but in a form that is explicitly sentimental; and by necessity, individualistic; and by habit, virtue signaling. It is no longer what “everyone believes,” without thinking.

We, today – and I write “we” to include most Christian believers – cannot easily envision the Baby Jesus as a supernatural story; only as a natural one. This is because we do not easily conceive of OURSELVES as supernatural, as well as natural, entities.

Which is to say, our grasp on Christology is broken, and in very urgent need of repair.

Babies to us are cute, or can be. So are puppies, and in almost the same way.

I noticed, the other day, in a crowded elevator, a woman struggling with both a baby and a small dog. The baby was ignored. The dog was however complimented, and the woman was asked for its name. Baby-talk was directed to the dog.

Someone will write, accusing me of being judgmental, and offering some explanatory speculation. Perhaps the baby was familiar, but the dog was new. My “judgmentalism” will be among the fragments of that lost Christian worldview.

Until recently, one might say that the crèche in a shopping mall at Christmas was another fragment. More recently, it has become a source of controversy.

And so in the end (but it is not yet the end), the Bambino Gesù has become controversial. The worst thing one might say about me, is that I understand the controversy.

Rather, that is not the worst, but it is still pretty bad. For the right way to respond to protests about the bambino in question is not with an angry defense, surely. Rather, with unaffected incomprehension.

I happen to be the father of a Down Syndrome child. He has now reached thirty, but is in some respects still a child. He has taught me more than I could otherwise know about Jesus.

One of the examples he has set for me is that capacity for unaffected incomprehension, when something “cruel and unusual” is done around him, or even TO him – as was more than once the case in a schoolyard.

That we now live in an age when such children, spotted in the womb, will almost certainly be aborted, is among the things he would not understand, or try to analyze. He lacks the mental equipment for that. People call it a “disability.”

To a modern journalist, as I know from having been one, a hospital named “Bambino Gesù” is an inviting target for an exposé. Let us not try to comprehend the incomprehensible.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: davidwarrenonline.com.