11. What Will the Child Be?

by Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty

Descriptive Title

What Will the Child Be?


Chapter Eleven of Cardinal Mindszenty's book, The Mother.

Larger Work

The Mother



Publisher & Date

Radio Replies Press, 1949

When John the Baptist was born, the neighbors asked: "What an one, think ye,-shall this child be?" This is usually the great question, whether asked or left unsaid, that hovers over the cradle of every child. While from all eternity God knows the pathway and the goal of every child, we are left in uncertainty of its future. It is fortunate that most people do not ponder this deeply, or this question would worry them continually. For it is a most important question.

The Stars

Three and four hundred years ago, the stars were consulted to find an answer to this question, A horoscope was cast, and the stars gave the answer. Even in our day this superstition has its followers. The Senegalese and the people of North India have their astrologers. Before birth the father consults an astrologer and requests him to foretell the future. But St. Augustine calls this a silly superstition. How can the stars foretell what the child will become or how it will act in the future, when this depends upon the free will of the person himself? The common people believe that the future of a child can be judged by the visible marks on its body. Curly hair is supposed to denote a wise child, straight hair a sickly one. When its little teeth begin to appear, then if the front teeth are wide apart this child will make its way in the world-and so on. The day of birth also gives occasion to all kinds of superstition.

At the time of Rousseau all the astrologers and fortune tellers were united in the opinion that the child has a soul pure as an angel and could continue to be an angel if kept from human society. Everyone is supposed to be born an angel, according to them, but is spoiled by human association.

In his last talk Bishop lmre Szabo gave the correct answer: "The heart of the child is like a noble palm which was bruised and cut by an axe when a young tree; the scars left by this cutting remain visible even when the tree is full grown. Moreover these bruises and cuts give rise to unhealthy and harmful growths. For similar reasons, a child may turn out to be an angel, but also a devil." Angel or devil, that is the question addressed to every human being in the cradle. And this expresses it correctly. For the angel and the devil wrestle with one another at the cradle of the child. Much that is noble in man must be raised up, and evil tendencies must be conquered, before the good man comes to maturity.

The one and only prophecy ever made was the announcement of the angel in reference to the life of Christ: "He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the most High and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father (Luke 1, 32), and He shall reign forever." The angel made known his future to Mary His Blessed Mother. From the first foretelling of the Redemption in the garden of Paradise and from the words of the prophets, a special light shone upon her. She is the first shining morning star in the midst of a sinfully darkened world, revealed to her parents and all future generations. Her name is our joy and happiness. And a ray of her joy illumines the first days of every child in the cradle.

The Future Unveiled

God has also unveiled the future of some few saints while in the cradle. St. Paulinus tells us that a swarm of bees settled in the mouth of St. Ambrose when he was an infant, portending that he was to be a great preacher. We are told that a vine grew from the mouth of St. Ephrem, to show that he was to refresh the world by his sanctity and learning. The mother of St. Ethelwold once fell asleep in front of her house. In a dream she saw a mighty banner coming down from the skies, which enfolded her; and then disappeared. Next she saw a golden eagle come from her mouth, and grow larger and larger until finally it spread its wings over the entire world. The Mother of St. Columban felt as if she were carrying a sun in her bosom. St. Dominic's mother, too, had a vision during the days of her expectancy. She seemed to see a dog with a torch, wherewith it set the world afire. The presentiment of the mother of St. Camillus also came true. She seemed to see herself giving birth to a child with a cross on its arm, leading the way for a great concourse of children. An old Jesuit, standing at the cradle of St. Alphonsus Ligouri prophesied that the child would live to be ninety years old and do great things for the kingdom of God.

Be these similar stories merely legends or not, it still remains a fact that seldom if ever is the future of a child in the cradle revealed. The future remains dark and uncertain and rests in the hands of God.

Will my child be a happy bough, or a withered branch on our family tree? Will it be a ray of light finding its way to heaven, or will it fall to perdition? Will its star become extinct early in life, or will it shine out mildly unto old age? Will my child remain in innocence or become a murderer like Herod?

What Would Be Her Choice?

A mother's heart is filled by day and night with such mental pictures and questions. Sitting beside the cradle, all these human possibilities pass before her mental vision. Emperors lay down their empires, kings their crowns, and generals their swords at the foot of the cradle. Crowns, swords, shields and weapons bow before the cradle, until they are taken up again by others. The learned deposit their books, writers their pens, painters their brushes. The crowd increases, more and more people approach. They come, push ahead, present themselves and are gone. Among them is Heine the poet, who created wonderful poems, but was afflicted with a terrible disease. Perhaps, she thinks, a poet? That would be beautiful but-such a disease! No! The thought is too terrible for her. Then the great in history pass before her. They do not linger. Even the glory of Napoleon is dismissed. She seems not to be able to find a satisfactory picture. What shall she choose? How shall she choose? Dare she make a choice? But can she choose a future for her child?

"Mother, you would choose the best for me"

Laughter from the ghosts:
Did you hear such nonsense?
She will choose!
What was good enough for our lives,
That will have to satisfy your baby
In the cradle there.
It must take our lot entire:
Must it?
Yes it must!
Burdened once, t'is burdened ever:
Honored-but 'neath honor's load.

Remember, beneath the crown, the shields, the swords, there are wounds and pain. But none of these thousands of shapes and forms that pass before her mental vision seem to please the mother. More, more pictures-other and still other pictures pass in review. When, O when shall I see the happiness of my child? Fortunate indeed are we human creatures that we cannot pick and choose! We seek long and seriously among the many crosses, and none seems to fit our shoulders. None of them will do. When finally we find a cross that seems acceptable, we take it up with a cry of joy. In a short time, however, we find to our dismay that it is the very one we had shaken off before. God knows what is best for us. He has measured our cross to our shoulders.

Science can give you a slight but unsatisfactory answer to the question about the future development of the child, for according to the old proverb, the apple does not fall far from the tree. But this proverb is not always true. Occasionally it does happen that a good apple falls from a thorn-tree and roses have grown upon thistles.

Too Great A Burden

It is far better that we do not know the future, and that the choice is not left to us. The burden would be too great for human shoulders. So God has taken the burden upon Himself. The cradle remains the great enigma, the mysterious enigma, in the morning dawn of human life; the enigma of the mysterious, unfolding blossom.

Those who imagine they know the future of their child are frequently disappointed. Eve believed her first son Cain to be the dragon killer, who would win back the lost paradise. But Cain killed his brother Abel.

Although we cannot read the future, yet we know for certain that the destinies of mother and child are intimately interwoven. It is not strange, therefore, that the mother sometimes senses, in a way, the future of her child, especially when her own life is near its close. She listens raptly hoping to have the mystery solved.

And in actual fact, the solution of this riddle is to a certain extent placed in the hands of the mother. She can direct the soul of her child toward the priesthood, so that he will take up the cross and fight a holy crusade; but she can also direct him to take up the sword and prepare for a soldier's life. But still it is at best only a very small part she has to play in the unraveling of the enigma; the greater part rests with God.

For this reason she raises her hands to the Almighty, begging Him to take her by the hand and lead her in her task of being an efficient guide to the child and directing it upon the path of happiness. She prays that her child, from the cradle to the grave, take the path that leads to God and never wander from it in the slightest way. If this text applies to anyone at all, it surely applies to a mother; "Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you."

The soul of the child is a closed fortress. But the key to this fortress has been placed by God, in the hands of the mother.

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