Dear family, who is the one person that most often comes to mind when we think of stingy misers? For many it may be the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge, from Charles Dickens' 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a cold-hearted miser who despises Christmas. His attitude can be summed up in two words: "Bah, humbug!" Dickens describes Scrooge as "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint ... secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." Yes, that about sums up the image we have when we see Scrooge's heartless attitude toward his clerk, Bob Cratchit, whose household includes the crippled child, Tiny Tim.
Maybe you, like me, have run into some Scrooges in your lifetime - miserly people who are stingy with their money like Ebenezer Scrooge. The adjective miserly evolved from the Latin word miser, which means "unhappy, wretched." How often do we see unhappiness and wretchedness in the genuinely stingy and miserly?
Why are the stingy and miserly unhappy and wretched? Because misers are a step beyond mere frugality. They are a leap beyond mere prudence in spending. Misers are those who love the accumulation of money, which brings them into direct conflict with the first commandment, to love God above all things.
Jesus directly taught us on this very issue in a parable entitled The Rich Fool, emphasis on the word "fool": "There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, 'This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, 'Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!'" But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God"(Luke 12:16-21).
Perhaps it was grace that inspired Dickens to write The Christmas Carol - grace that enabled him to understand that we are formed by our experiences, but all is not lost. It is not too late; it is never too late, to change. The actual novella opens with a description of Scrooge's lonely and unhappy childhood, and his aspiration for money to avoid poverty. Unlike the rich fool, Scrooge indeed overcame his early formation and, as we know, when he did there was joy: "I don't know what to do! I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!"
It is not likely that our own transformation from stinginess and miserliness will arise from being visited by three ghosts, Past, Present, and Future; however, we do not need nocturnal visits from ghosts to effect a change in ourselves. Rather, if we are open to it, we may make the effort to ponder our own past experiences, then meditate upon how these experiences have formed us and resulted in our present, and then make a firm purpose to amend our future, an amendment to be less stingy and miserly with anything we have.
Certainly, this applies to any material goods, but perhaps most importantly to our time - time we could spend in prayer of thanksgiving, intercession for others, even imploring God on our own behalf. Indeed, what may be most required of us is our time; it so often is a lot easier to just throw some money at a problem, but extremely difficult to spend some personal time fixing it. How stingy and miserly we are with our time. How little we comprehend the implications of the words God spoke to the rich fool: "this night your life will be demanded of you."
Dear family, we must examine our lives. As the great Socrates is said to have uttered: "The unexamined life is not worth living" (as described in Plato's Apology, which is a recollection of the speech Socrates gave at his trial. (38a5-6)). One commentator described the meaning of Socrates' statement thusly: "It means any life which is not checkmated, unaccountable is not worth living. It tries to emphasize that everyone has to live a life that they should be proud of, a life that they can look back to what they achieved and say yes indeed I made a mark or I have not lived up to my expectations, so I need to make amends."
We must examine our lives and when we do, let us keep in mind the sobering words of the ghost of Jacob Marley: "'I wear the chain I forged in life,' replied the Ghost, 'I made it link by link, and yard by yard.'" And when we examine our lives let us understand the truth spoken by Scrooge after the visit of the ghost of the Future: "Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" In other words, Scrooge asked it if was too late to change. No, dear family, it is not too late, it is never too late, to change.
Scrooge changed because the three ghosts forced him to examine his life. Let us force ourselves to do the same. After all, that is the whole point of the Examination of Conscience we are supposed to do before entering the Sacrament of Reconciliation. In that examination, let us ask ourselves if we truly love God above all things, or whether we are stingy and miserly with any or many of the gifts God has given us, especially the gift of time. Let us not fear such an examination, but rather revel in the fact that we know transformative grace will come to us through the sacrament. Let us pray that through this transformation it may be said of us as it was said of Scrooge in some concluding words of A Christmas Carol: "
And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!"