Scrooge’s Three-Dimensional, Last-Minute Advent
Advent is a penitential time for reflection, conversion of heart, kenosis (an emptying out of self), metanoia (spiritual conversion) and the preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The timeless and enduring character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has to be considered one of the pre-eminent examples of the most intense, condensed, (albeit involuntary) three-dimensional Advent examinations of conscience on record — or, at the very least, in literary history. And it all transpires under the supervision of four unexpected “spiritual directors” in both the literal and figurative senses.
Since 1843, Scrooge has been the recipient of a mysterious series of very personal, nightmarish visions combined with a sprinkling of pleasant, nostalgic reminiscences geared toward the complete breakdown and rebuilding of his conscience, his outlook and his perceptions. The spectral forces behind this one-night journey coerce him to re-examine his choices, decisions and motivations, ultimately challenging him for his own existential and spiritual benefit.
Instead of taking the normally-allotted time between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve to accomplish this task like the rest of us, Scrooge is pigeonholed into a three-phased, crash-course program to do something he has never done before. He thoroughly examines his conscience in preparation for the birth of the Infant Savior between the hours of 1:00 a.m. and sunrise on Christmas Day.
Scrooge’s 1st Dimension of Advent: A Christmas Past of Regret and Remorse
Ironically, Scrooge is not alone when he looks upon the Christmases of his past and dislikes what he sees. He is, in a sense, everyman. At some point, more than likely, we have been there, too. His heart is rent by the sights and sounds of lost opportunities, poor choices, wasted time and illusory pursuits, all of which have contributed toward his present state in life, one of misanthropic isolation and self-absorbed routine.
Jacob Marley’s woeful pain in his own confession of overlooking the many times when he could have intervened for good on behalf of others is juxtaposed in stark contrast to the intractability of Ebenezer’s “worldly mind.” The various glimmers of hope for a future of life, love and happiness dwindle in the shadows of an ever-growing consternation, a covetous, wild goose chase for personal and financial gain at the expense of the fleeting yet ignored invitations to the possibilities of generosity and love.
In the clear, bright light of this particular ghost, a light about which he complains and with which he is most uncomfortable and unfamiliar, Scrooge takes, perhaps, his first faint-hearted steps toward personal conversion. But it is a difficult process. His growing discomfort and regret with encountering his former fiancée Belle, now happily married, is addressed by the Ghost of Christmas Past who gently remonstrates him:
“I told you these were shadows of the things that have been’” said the ghost. That they are what they are, do not blame me!”
Scrooge’s past dimension stirs within him bittersweet memories which engulf him in melancholia, but the metaphysical designs behind his spiritual “boot camp” in the turbulent wee hours re-awaken long lost memories, feelings and images promoting the necessary revelations of a changing soul. His otherworldly past “spiritual director” charitably probes his mind and his heart to determine where the pain resides. In identifying the source of his past pain, anguish and sorrow, the ghostly “doctors” of his present and his potential future can now operate on his will and his intellect.
Painful as that surgery can be, it must be done to root out the cause of the problems. Digging out the cancer. Suctioning out the infection. Honestly confronting and confessing the sins. And so it is with us in order to advance in the spiritual life, readying and healing our hearts, which absolutely must be united to our minds, in order to use Advent for its intended purpose. As Isaiah the prophet might say, Scrooge’s crooked ways are now being made straight and his rough places plain.
2nd Dimension of Advent: A Christmas Present of Realization and Re- Awakening
Spirited to the reality of his more familiar, contemporary surroundings, Scrooge considers his rather negative influence in the lives of those around him. For the first time in a long time, he begins to re-evaluate and better understand his actions as well as his inactions through the eyes of his neighbors and business associates in his modern day. It is a very unfamiliar lens through which he looks, being a man who is completely uncomfortable and untried in the ways of critical self-introspection.
Yet the spirit perseveres in showing Scrooge the error of his ways. He is much more openly conversant with this ghost, less argumentative and more willing to engage in dialogue with this ethereal spiritual director. Evidence of remorse and sorrow enter Scrooge’s conscience when he is informed Tiny Tim may die “If these shadows remain unaltered by the future…” as he “…was overcome with penitence and grief.”
Realizing there is nothing he can do about his past, Scrooge begins to see his present circumstances as malleable, perhaps even transformative. The charitable work of this spirit is demonstrated in its ability to convince Scrooge he has the opportunity, the invitation and the power to change, but effectively communicates that change can only come through decidedly radical growth involving a jettisoning of the old ways and fully embracing these new and strange components of charity, mercy and forbearance mentioned earlier by Jacob Marley.
Ebenezer Scrooge conscientiously “wakes up” in this second dimension, contemplating the error of his former ways and current practices, but even more importantly, seeing the desperate need for redemption that can be established precisely because he still has the time to do it. This concept of personal transformation lies at the heart of Advent. Time remains to change “…the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ez 36:26).
Yet we “..know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13).
3rd Dimension of Advent: A Christmas Yet to Come of Recalculation and Re-Orientation
Ebenezer Scrooge beholds various cold, fearful images predicting what is in store for his future if he either neglects or refuses to mend his indifference to humanity. He is, by no means, an evil or wicked man. By anyone’s standards, he has been a hard-working, enterprising man of business who obeys the law, works within the system and lives a deservedly comfortable existence by way of his intelligence, ingenuity and work ethic. He pays his bills on time, makes wise investments and accrues his wealth earnestly and honestly gained. But the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come silently and powerfully reiterates the fact that none of these things is ever enough in the spiritual life to be judged kindly in the eyes of the merciful Savior whose birthday celebration Scrooge has repeatedly referred to as “humbug.”
With all his money, property and possessions, Scrooge is spiritually bankrupt. The futility of all his work to accumulate his impressive holdings in the material world are now, perhaps for the first time in his mind’s eye, starkly juxtaposed with the zero balance in the empty abyss of his corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The accounting he would surely have to give at that moment, if he were to die, would certainly be devastating.
Like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can only re-write our future by re-writing our present each day.
A Christmas Carol is, arguably, more of an Advent story than a Christmas story. It embodies all of the characteristics of the Advent Season with the purpose of taking time to take time. It is an incentive to re-constitute, re-purpose and re-prioritize our habits, thoughts and actions and bring them into conformity with living a Christ-like life. It is an inducement for us to examine our consciences, own up to our past mistakes, forgive ourselves, our fellow men and, in turn, ask the forgiveness of others and of the God Who “…became flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.” With a little help, Scrooge accomplished this within only a few hours. He undergoes an amazing conversion. He changes.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach…”
We have the time that remains during these Sundays of Advent to apply the valuable lessons learned here and immerse ourselves into our own personal three-dimensional time of deep spiritual conversion in order to truly prepare the way for the birth of the Lord.
Want to explore more deeply the Catholic principles found in A Christmas Carol? Check out Infusing the Catholic Faith: English — A Christmas Carol available from our sister apostolate, Sophia Institute for Teachers.