Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least, of my brethren, you did it for me.
I have a confession to make. I am an unashamed and unabashed reader and lover of fairy tales. That’s right. But I am not talking about the revisionist agenda-laden stuff Disney has been dishing out here of late—films like Frozen and Maleficent. These movies are problematic for a number of reasons, the least of which is that they consistently and deliberately portray men as incompetent, or confused, or deceitful, or else downright evil. No, I’m not talking about the Disney slop. I’m talking about classic fairy tales—the brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, and the folk tales of Ireland or even Russia. Okay, I like The Princess Bride too. I find it inconceivable that any grownup would not read fairy tales. Fairy tales are not just for kids. As a matter of fact, you have to be somewhat mature really to appreciate fairy tales. British author C.S. Lewis once wrote: “I now enjoy the fairy tales more than I did in childhood: being now able to put more in, of course, I get more out.” Scottish writer George MacDonald, in many ways the inspiration for C.S. Lewis, was a master when it came to writing fairy tales. He himself once insisted, “I do not write for children, but for the childlike, whether of five, or fifty, or of seventy-five.”
One of my very favorite George MacDonald stories is called Little Daylight. I recently purchased a copy of it from amazon.com for a whopping $4.00—one cent for the book and $3.99 for shipping and handling. In my opinion, the book is vastly underpriced. It is, as I see it, altogether priceless.
Princess Daylight, you see, was the longed-for and long-awaited first child of a noble king and queen. All the local fairies were invited to her christening—all, that is, except one, a wicked old crone who decided to show up anyway and curse the infant just for spite. The good fairies bestowed gifts of joy and beauty on little Daylight. The wicked fairy, however, put a double curse on the child: First, she must sleep by day and wake by night. Second, her beauty must wax and wane with the moon. Fortunately, the good fairies kept one fairy in reserve for just such contingencies. As soon as the wicked fairy finished her curses, this good fairy chimed in with an escape clause. The double malediction on Princess Daylight would be in effect only “until a prince comes who shall kiss her without knowing it.” What did that mean?
Now just try to imagine all the difficulties the king and queen had in raising their twice-cursed daughter. Little Daylight would be wide awake all night, but as soon as dawn made its first appearance in the east, she would drop off into a sound sleep until sunset. As the moon grew fuller, her beauty would become more and more radiant until her loveliness surpassed that of any woman in the land. Yet as the moon waned, her splendor faded until, when there was no moon at all, she was more worn and decrepit and a sorrier sight than anyone could ever believe.
Well, the years went by, and Princess Daylight spent more and more of her waking hours in an enchanted forest. One night, when she was a young maiden—guess what?—it so happened that a brave and handsome prince came upon her as she was dancing in an open glade. He was struck by her beauty but kept himself concealed. The next night, he found her again in the same glade, lovelier still. On the third night, the night of the full moon, he saw Daylight once more. She was even more beautiful than on the preceding night. This time, the prince began to speak with her, and, as a result, he was completely smitten. For her part, Princess Daylight was impressed with the young prince, but she dared not hope that he would be the one to set her free from her spells.
Alas! The wicked fairy got wind of the midnight tryst, and saw to it that the prince was not able to find the princess for the next two weeks. For a fortnight, he searched in vain for his love, patiently overcoming many hardships and obstacles. Finally, on a moonless night, he did encounter a worn, wretched woman covered with wrinkles and wrapped in a black cloak. The poor thing was moaning piteously. The prince lit a fire, and by its light he saw that she was weeping copiously. All thought of searching for the princess vanished. Filled with compassion, the good prince caught up the withered creature in his arms and started out for a small hut, where he knew she would fine help and refuge. His heart was so moved that he himself also wept, and he could not help kissing her.
As the prince made his way in the darkness toward the hut, he felt unaccountably weary. The woman whom he had lifted from the ground had been light as a feather, but now he felt as though his arms were burdened with a much greater weight. Just as the sun lighted up the eastern horizon, Princess Daylight lept from the young man’s arms. The awestruck prince was overcome by her beauty and knelt at her feet. “There,” said Princess Daylight, bestowing a wondrous kiss on the prince. “You kissed me when I was an old woman. I kiss you when I am a young princess. Is that the sun coming?”
Now at first we may think the princess’s greatest benefit was being freed from her twofold curse. No longer was she forced to remain asleep during the day. No longer would her great beauty wax and wane with the moon. In my opinion, however, Daylight’s greatest blessing was having found a potential husband with compassion. The prince had been so overcome by the sight of her pitiable condition that he was ready in a moment to forsake all his own interests in order to help a fellow creature.
Ladies and gentlemen, I firmly believe George MacDonald’s story of Little Daylight would make a perfect wedding present. It would remind a husband and wife that active compassion is essential to marriage. I say it repeatedly. If you are looking for a spouse, stay away from the online dating services and chat rooms. Don’t even think of going to bars. Instead, volunteer for Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, a soup kitchen, or a nursing home. There you will meet volunteers with compassion. There you may very well find a good potential spouse. Who knows? Special Olympics may become a pick up place par excellence!
Way back in the 1980s, The Wall Street Journal published a magnificent article by Christopher de Vinck entitled Power of the Powerless: A Brother’s Lesson. Here the author tells us that one of the key factors in determining whom he should marry was whether or not the girl in question had compassion for his severely physically and mentally disabled brother Oliver.
When I prepare a couple for marriage, I like to ask the man and woman how they met. I long for the day when they will reply, “We met while working for Special Olympics.” I used to tell my students over and over: “If you are thinking of marrying a particular person ask yourself: Would this man be a good father or would this woman be a good mother to our special needs child? If the answer is NO, run in the opposite direction!
I say it again: Compassion is an essential element of marriage. It’s compassion that enables a husband and wife to forgive each other when they fail to measure up to one another’s expectations. It’s compassion that allows a mother or father to set aside self-interest in order to feed children when they are hungry, give them drink when they are thirsty, clothe them when they are naked, care for them when they are sick, and love them even when (and especially when) they get in trouble. One more time: compassion is essential to marriage.
In Jesus’ description of the Last Judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), the King is insistent that those who enter into His eternal realm are compassionate. Why? Because Christ the King, who often walks among us in distressing disguises, is also Christ the Bridegroom. Our Lord is not only looking for obedient subjects; He’s also looking for compassionate spouses. Only those who have compassion for the truly needy will live happily ever after in the nuptial embrace of Christ.
Remember: Fairy tales can come true. It can happen to you…if you are among the compassionate of heart.