There is a scene in Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol, which always tugs at my heart-strings. Scrooge, a wealthy, but bitter and lonely old man, is taken by the ‘Spirit of Christmas past’ to look at himself as a young man. The Spirit reminds him how he was loved by a beautiful young woman, who became his fiancée. Scrooge, however, became hooked on money and the time came, when his fiancée asked him to choose between her and his love of money – and he chose money. In that sad scene, Scrooge watches, as his fiancée gives him back her engagement ring and sadly walks away. The older Scrooge calls out to his younger self, “You fool! Go after her; don’t let her go!” But, he has no power to change the past and has to watch, as his younger self lets her walk away.
We still see the tragedy of Scrooge acted out all around us – and in us. We are given visions, hopes of a better world – and then we falter, reasoning that it would be better to establish ourselves, before we embark on our dream – only to find that when we are ready to reach out our hand, there is no one there to take it.
One of our difficulties is that we mistake ‘reason’ for ‘wisdom’. ‘Reason’ is logic; it deals with the head. It calculates the price of things, but not their value. ‘Wisdom’, on the other hand, deals with what the Bible calls ‘heart’; it roots reason in an appreciation of the goodness of the world and so knows ‘value’. Pascal said, “The heart has reasons that reason does not know”. It is an area of living into which the rationality of the younger Scrooge could not enter, for he had not yet learnt to appreciate that he was loved.
But are we doomed, like Scrooge, to gain wisdom only in hindsight, when the damage is done and cannot be repaired? This, however, is a wrong question, for no purpose is served by merely dwelling on the past. The wise person looks not to the past, but to the future and asks, “How can I make the most of the opportunity before me?” Then, in deciding which direction to take, he looks at the past and, like Scrooge, learns from it.
There are two movements going on in Scrooge’s story – and in our own lives. Scrooge’s actions are not, by themselves, enough to change him. He needs first to be ‘softened’ by the Spirit and enabled to change. We have a dual nature – the outer and the inner. It is not enough to just confess my sins for them to be forgiven, this has to be the fruit of a ‘softening’ by the Spirit, for while the priest offers absolution, only God forgives, heals and makes damaged hearts and relationships new. The opposite is also true – the Spirit may enable me to learn from my past, but I have to confess that, for it to become real.
On Good Friday, we heard:
They will look on the one whom they have pierced.
The full text is:
“But over the House of David and the citizens of Jerusalem I will pour out a spirit of kindness and prayer. They will look on the one whom they have pierced; they will mourn for him as for an only son, and weep for him as people weep for a first-born child” (Zech 12:10).
It takes courage to look on the ones we have injured, but we must to learn for the future. The future is a gift of newness, given by God at Easter – but that newness can only comes by recognising Good Friday.
Fr Terry Burke