Reflections On ‘A Christmas Carol’ with Dr. Richard Brake

Dear Friends & Families of St. Michael,

I love Christmas, and I especially love Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – by now a familiar story of conversion, but when written in 1843, was remarkable for its counter-cultural celebration of “making merry” on a Feast Day which had been ignored for centuries by a priggish English society.  

I dare say we have the opposite problem today, as our secular culture has certainly appropriated the Nativity for its own crass commercial purposes.  It makes one wonder why it’s so hard these days to find that golden mean between a glum puritanism and a syrupy sentimentalism, both of which ignores the focus of the Mass of Christ – that Babe in a Manger.

The true meaning of the Christmas Story has been on my mind recently here at St. Michael, as our kids have been working hard on their production of A Christmas Carol, at the same time our faculty have been striving to prepare our students spiritually through the proper observance of Advent.

At St. Michael, we are also counterculture, like Dickens, as we believe that before proceeding to celebrate the Incarnation, we must seek spiritual redemption through the joyful preparations of Advent.

Like so many elements of our faith, the battle over the proper approach to Christmas is emblematic of the over-arching struggle that Christians face today to defend our beliefs in an increasingly hostile public square.  More and more, it takes courage to stand-up and be a Christian, and in that respect, I cannot imagine a more effective way to nurture more joyful Catholic leaders than by investing in a school like St. Michael.  

We simply must stop the hemorrhaging of believers among our rising generation, and to do that we need a new approach to education that respects parents and is consistent with the traditional values and founding principles of our country.

That’s the method we employ every day at St. Michael, Thanks be to God!

I also love our patron, G.K. Chesterton, who was known for not only his jovial wit but also his deep respect for Dickens.  We want our “smart saints” to be “happy warriors” in the spiritual battles of our time, just like Chesterton, and we also want our kids to have that deep abiding happiness that was the hallmark of so many of Dickens’ characters.  As Dale Ahlquist, the foremost authority on Chesterton in America observes, “With Dickens, our sympathy with the characters takes the form of joy.  Even his horrible characters make us happy.”

Happiness.  Ultimately, that is the business of St. Michael and in that regard, listen to how Chesterton describes the effervescent happiness at the heart of the Christmas Carol message:

A Christmas Carol is a kind of philanthropic dream in which there is one constant state of the soul, a state of rowdy benediction and a hunger for human faces.   The beauty and the real blessing of the story lie in the great furnace of real happiness that glows through Scrooge and everything around him; that great furnace, the heart of Dickens.  The story sings from end to end like a happy man going home; and, like a happy and good man, when it cannot sing it yells.  It is lyric and exclamatory.  It is strictly a Christmas carol.

We are in a pitched battle for the souls of our children.  So many kids today are truly unhappy, sad, bored, and alone, even in a world that promises the cheap thrills of virtual reality and Facebook friends.  At St. Michael, we offer real friendships, and produce loving and resilient kids who know that true happiness lies in a right relation with Christ.

“And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well.”  Ahh, the redeemed Scrooge, content no more to limit his charity to the welfare state of his day. 

“Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?”  Don’t be that old Scrooge, but be the new one who, when seeing the two philanthropists on Christmas Day, exclaimed, “Not a farthing less.  A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you.”  

Have a blessed Advent and a glorious Christmastide!

Dr. Richard Brake, Headmaster

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