I remember maneuvering around my backyard standing on the back of a big red tricycle my older brother steered toward and away from dangers. We loved that tricycle, as demonstrated by the twenty old family photos which looked more like copies than examples of how often our parents thought it was a good idea to take pictures of us in identical poses on that bright red symbol of childhood.
As I look back to those innocent days in the equally innocent early 60s, I realize that the red tricycle is a perfect metaphor for what childhood should be about. You get to move around, embarking on adventures while seemingly balancing yourself precariously during your journey, hovering between safety and danger, ready to go out on your own, yet still needing that large front wheel.
On a temporal level, that big wheel represents your parents. On an eternal plane, however, that wheel is God, Who will always be the Father to us, regardless of our earthly age. There is an inherent respect and humility in admitting that you need a tricycle, that you need the security and presence of that big, third wheel guiding you, even as you foolishly start believing that you are actually balancing yourself.
On earth, the sight of an adult riding a tricycle would be cause for a good dose of mockery and even a few psychiatric visits. In fact, increasingly, the sight of an adult praying with devotion to an unseen God seems to conjure mockery and psychiatric suggestions as well.
Everyone sees the tricycle as the preparation, the precursor to the bicycle. It is what you ride until you have progressed beyond the childish, the immature, the naive and innocent.
Doesn’t this world, and especially this society, look at Christianity, very much including Catholicism, in the same way as it sees that tricycle? Isn’t Christianity viewed as some naive, foolish, superstitious mental ailment or insecurity that, thankfully, some enlightened and profound folks somehow escape and point back to on magazines and television with equal parts resentment, ridicule, embarrassment and, for that matter, even relief of having escaped? Doesn’t this society look at its secular humanism as progressive thinking, evidence of the emancipation from the foolish recitation on beads and belief in rituals?
This society looks upon the tricycle with quaint patronization. It is the cute toy of naive infants who do not know any better, who go around believing that they are balancing themselves, oblivious to the reality that, if it were not for that big front wheel, they would go down like a ton of bricks or knock themselves senseless on a wall. That is acceptable for children, but adults know enough to have either moved beyond the foolish tricycle or, if they have not, at least have the sense or decency to not ride around in one looking like idiots.
If you think about it, this society looks upon Christianity, very much including Catholicism, in much the same way. It is the tricycle of the mind or, as Marx called all religion, the opiate of the people. According to this society, Christianity, like the tricycle, encourages, even promotes, a naive belief that we are balancing ourselves when we are not.
Given this view, it follows that, just as adults are supposed to move beyond tricycles and graduate to bicycles, so too Christians are supposed to, at some point in their expected mental development, move beyond their arrogant, condescending superstition and holier-than-thou grasp on beliefs which, despite their ancient and rich history, are now looked upon as something like a myth on steroids.
I am here to tell you that God likes tricycles. He wants us to remember that, in fact, we cannot really do it alone, despite how often this society tells us that God is a third wheel, and that three’s a crowd.
We are bombarded with the notion that independence, subjective morality, convenience, buffet ethics, and feelings are what matter in this selfie society. We are equally told that we are all that we need, that there is no God, and that we can handle it on our own, even as we are immediately given the business cards of therapists, counselors, and lawyers.
The very same people who speak of choice, of privacy, and obsession with self, will be the first ones to suggest every foolish remedy or guru that slides down the ladder of popularity. We are people frantically seeking bicycles which will not last, or which will only take us off the next cliff we see as a bridge, and the next mirage we will see as a paradise.
The tricycle is about humility; it is about admitting that you need that big wheel up front. At the end of the day, Christianity, with Catholicism very much included, is the tricycle of the soul, with God as the big wheel up front. God likes tricycles, and I am glad that I have twenty photos on one.