Advent 2016 Reflection by Greg Pierce
This month's prayer is a reflection
on Dickens' A Christmas Carol
by Gregory F. Augustine Pierce
A Christmas Carol was written by Charles Dickens in 1843 and is one of the most beloved stories in the world.
Unfortunately, it is so familiar that most of us miss its basic message when we see it on stage, screen, or television each Christmas season, which is that mean-spiritedness and miserliness make us miserable…but that it is not too late for us to change.
Ebenezer Scrooge is the perfect character for most Americans today. He could be any one of us: cranky, disillusioned, wanting to be left alone to stew in our own strongly-held juices about what is wrong with the world and just about everyone else. We are done trying to help, trying to do the right thing, trying to make the world a better place! Are there no prisons, are there no poorhouses that can make all our problems go away (or at least hide from our sight)?
Like Scrooge, we need something to get us out of our funk. We need to be visited by three ghosts: The Ghost of Who We Were, the Ghost of Who We Are, and the Ghost of Who We Could Be.
We as Americans used to be better than we have been recently. Oh, sure, we have been worse, too, but there was a certain civility to our affairs that most of us at least strived for most of the time. We didn’t always think that for me to be up, someone else had to be down. As a nation we said, with Emma Lazarus at the Statue of Liberty, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses longing to be free.” At our best, we were capable of kindness and generosity and selflessness. Is that not the Ghost of Who We Were?
And the Ghost of Who We Are, is that not still alive as well? We still catch glimpses of ourselves as we really want to be: people who haven’t given up, who still fight the good fight, who are out there every day working for the common good and standing for the whole. We see it especially in some of our young people, and in some of our elders, and even in some of us in the middle. They are the people we really admire, the ones we still wish we could be like, the ones who refuse to buy into our new culture of confrontation and denigration and lowered expectations, the ones who don’t think it is all about money and personal power and hatred of anyone who disagrees with them. That Spirit is still among us.
As is the Ghost of Who We Could Be. Like Scrooge, the dark shadows we see in our future are not necessarily those of things that will be, but only of things that might be. We still have time to change them. It can still be Christmas Day when we wake up. But wake up we must. And when we wake up, we then have to act differently in our public and private lives.
“You’re an old Scrooge!” we say when we really want to put someone down (which seems to be more and more often these days). But really, the message of Dickens’ story is that we all need to become more like the post-ghostly-visits Scrooge who “became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good city, town, or borough, in the good old world.”
“And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”
© 2016, Gregory F. Augustine Pierce
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About the author
Gregory F. Augustine Pierce is the president and co-publisher of ACTA Publications in Chicago. He is a past president of the National Center for the Laity and the author of the best-selling books, Spirituality at Work, The Mass Is Never Ended, and The World As It Should Be: Living Authentically in the Here-and-Now Kingdom of God. He is also a leader in United Power for Action and Justice in Cook County, Illinois, and the Association of Catholic Publishers. He is married to Kathleen Augustine Pierce, a Catholic schoolteacher. The couple has three young-adult children.