byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
Many of us are familiar with the classic work of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. At this time of the year, we often hear the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who considered Christmas “humbug.” On Christmas Eve, he was visited by three spirits who revealed to him the meaning of Christmas past, present and the future. On Christmas Day, Scrooge was a new man who believed in the meaning of Christmas and the goodness of human nature. At the conclusion of the novel, Dickens tells us that Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that truly be said of us, and all of us!”
Charles Dickens lived in an age of contrast between the poor and the rich. In 1843, when he wrote his famous work in industrialized England, there was a marked incongruity between those who profited from thriving business and industry, represented by Scrooge, and those who lived in distressing poverty, many times the victims of industrialization. Owning and dominating overpowered the meaning of life, which oftentimes can only be understood through the eyes of children and the less fortunate, represented in the novel by the poor sickly boy, Tiny Tim, upon whom Scrooge finally lavished love. The world of Charles Dickens was not too different from our own today nor from any other time in history.
In the mind of Charles Dickens, keeping Christmas well is summed up as the Spirit of Christmas Present and Ebeneezer Scrooge watched Scrooge’s family playing simple games. The spirit remarked, “It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty founder was a child himself.”
It is the “mighty founder” of Christmas who teaches that, “Whoever does not accept the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:15). Jesus chose children, whom the disciples wanted to keep away from Him, as being insignificant and bothersome. To this Jesus objected, “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matt 19:14). Jesus emphasized His unique relationship to children when He declared, “Whoever receives one such child as this in my name receives me” (Matt 18:5). A child reflects the image of the Son of God, born in Bethlehem, who forever has His home with the Father. When Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary, His divine qualities as the Son of God are apparent in human form. It is nothing less than these qualities which make for the wonder of Christmas.
This past October, Pope Francis announced the beatification of Pope John Paul I, known as the “smiling Pope,” who reigned for only 33 days in 1978. When Pope John Paul I (Cardinal Albino Luciani) was Patriarch of Venice, he wrote a series of open letters to famous writers, fictitious characters, and historical figures, published under the title, Illustrissimi. One of these letters was to Charles Dickens regarding his literary work, A Christmas Carol. Pope John Paul I wrote that Dicken’s insight in his novel should renew Christians resolve to follow Christ in solidarity with each other and in trust of God.
Pope John Paul I expressed to Dickens that “We all are in the same boat.” How true that is! Rich, poor, powerful, or lowly, we are the same. We are the children of God, who unites us in the Incarnation of His Son, and bestows a dignity upon us that transcends economic status, state in life and every other aspect of life. We need to identify with each other in the solidarity of the basic human condition because Christ became one of us. Only such solidarity will banish false distinctions, dissatisfaction with others as well as ourselves, and us bring true peace. Such solidarity will enable us to have a true respect for ourselves as the unique person God made us to be. Pope John Paul I expressed to Dickens, “All for one and one for all. Insist on what unites and forget what divides us.”
As children of God all are created equally created in His Image and likeness. We need to put aside confidence in our own resources and abilities and trust ourselves in the hands of God. In our own confused and struggling world, we see the denial of the right to life of an unborn child as well as the lack of respect for life on so many levels. We see the neglect of the vulnerable and the lack of faith in God’s plan and in the goodness of human nature. Unfortunately, our society considers itself progressive which only reveals that it is a morally poor one, not fully living as the children of God. Pope John Paul I expressed to Dickens, “With a voice of your Marley, you wish the star of the wisemen might illuminate the houses of the poor. Today the whole world, which has such need of God, is a poor abode!” Indeed, the world needs God more than it needs anything else, and it needs to be enlightened by the light of Christ.
The great French Catholic writer and poet, Charles Péguy, who lived immediately after the death of Dickens, wrote, “A Christian child is just a child to whose eyes the infancy of Jesus has been presented a thousand times.” At this joyous time of the year, we need to become like children as the Lord Himself desires of us. His Birth and infancy as the Son of God must be presented before us a thousand times. We need to unite with the person of Christ who united Himself to us in order that we might be united with each other. The upcoming Synod on Synodality, called for by Pope Francis, reminds us of our need to journey together as sons and daughters loved by the father and the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ.
It is my special joy to wish all of you a Blessed Christmas, with a prayer that being like children we may always know how to keep Christmas well. May the Infancy of Christ be before us a thousand times, and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us, everyone”
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 24, 2021