“It is easy to be solemn,” G.K. Chesterton once noted, “it is so hard to be frivolous.” Ours are times when it is especially easy to tend to solemnity, thus allow me a few moments to do a bit of heavy lifting and offer some frivolity.
During the formative years of my life “catechesis” consisted mainly of input from the culture at large. While my parents sought to possess natural virtue and to instill the same in us kids, they were, in essence, “nones” before being “nones” was cool. I had to pick up my theology “on the streets” as it were. And the results were occasionally comical.
Sure, there were plenty of non-familial cultural sources providing accurate information. Christmas carols taught me the “where”—away in a manger in the little town of Bethlehem—and the “when” and the “how”—it was the first noel during a silent night, and so forth. And then there was the prevalent imagery of the commercialized Santa Claus, who really liked Coke. So I assumed Santa worked for Jesus (which, in fact, he did as I was to learn later) and I figured Jesus liked Coke as well.
Yet, through all this, there was one moment—a singular, gripping moment—which cut through the theological bewilderment of my childhood like a harbor bell on a foggy night. And that moment came when Linus steps forth on that stage and, in answering Charlie Brown’s question “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?”, recites those words from the Gospel of Luke (2:8-14).
I couldn’t have been younger than four or older than, say, six or seven when those words, like the jaws of Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven”, bit down to clench my heart while leaving my head to try to figure it all out. And that process would take twenty-odd years, when I finally found my home in the Catholic Church. When I heard Linus quote Luke, I knew the words I was hearing were good; I knew the words I was hearing were true; I knew the words I was hearing were beautiful.
As I grew in the Faith and delved deeper into the lives of the saints, becoming familiar with each one’s precious uniqueness, I started recognizing them in the beloved Peanut’s characters of my youth. And so, for your edification, here is my frivolous “Anderson’s Typology of Saints in ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’”
• Charlie Brown: He’s the central character for the whole gang, the one around whom all action revolves. Yet, he’s something a jester. I want to reach for the French word jongleur here and in so stating have already given away the game for avid readers of Chesterton who’ve read his biography of St. Francis. Charlie Brown is something of a purposeful and joyful simpleton, always wanting to see the best in others regardless of how often Lucy pulls that football away at the last minute. He has a love for and communicates with animals (i.e. Snoopy). His caring actions speak far more eloquently of his soul than do his words. When he foolishly buys that pitiful little tree, I see St. Francis selling all his father’s goods. When he dejectedly walks away after putting just one ornament on it, thinking he’s killed it, I see Francis descending into that basement to reflect on just where he went wrong. And when, at the end, he’s surrounded by his friends singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” I see St. Francis emerging from that basement with the angels and saints rejoicing in the saint he has become, the saint God intended him to be.
• Linus: He is our beloved hero’s friend. When Charlie Brown exasperatingly asks, “Can anyone tell me what Christmas is all about?”, who calmly and lucidly steps forward and begins reciting those hallowed words from Luke? Linus. And who, when men began asking again at the end of the Middle Ages the central questions about God, Jesus, and man, steps forward to provide crystalline syllogisms in answer? St. Thomas Aquinas. Linus is Aquinas to Charlie Brown’s St. Francis. Granted, their lives barely overlapped with Francis dying just two years after Thomas’ birth. Not for nothing did Chesterton write two biographies comparing and contrasting each from the other. And Linus’ blanket, always present and ever comforting? Recall Aquinas was a Dominican. Thomas’ blanket was his rosary.
• Lucy: Secretly, I’ve sort of liked Lucy since I was a kid. And as I’ve studied the lives of the saints, I’ve figured out why. She reminds me of St. Martha, whom I’ve previously written about elsewhere. Why Martha? Because I love saints who may be messed up in the beginning but pull it out in the end. In Martha’s case, everyone knows she (like Lucy wanting a big, aluminum tree) is consumed at the start with the cares and distractions of “the world”. However, many miss that it is Martha who proclaims Jesus as Messiah, the Son of the Living God in John’s Gospel (11:27)—an honor reserved for Peter in the Synoptics. Many also miss the pivotal role of Lucy. It is she who recognizes “it’s really not such a bad tree after all?” She breaks through her worldliness and sees. And upon her pronouncement, the tree is transformed.
• Sally: What saint do we know who pitches a little fit about just ‘wanting what’s coming to her,’ about only wanting her ‘fair share’ as a child? Yes, St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Sure, it’s Thérèse before her conversion. But I prefer to believe that right after pitching that fit, Sally went to her room and, while writing that letter to Santa, was herself gripped with remorse and resolved that even though she was but a little girl and could do no great thing, she would, instead, do little things with great love. She’s such a sweet little thing, how can one doubt it went otherwise? (Remember, we are all ‘works in progress’!)
• Peppermint Patty: Who loves Charlie Brown with a plain love, a simple love, a pure love? Peppermint Patty. And who loved St. Francis with a plain love, a simple love, a pure love? St. Clare. ‘Nuff said.
• Pigpen: I must confess this one comes from my wife who, after I related that I just couldn’t come up with a saint for Pigpen, quickly and rather bluntly threw out, “John the Baptist”. Of course! And how infuriating! I spend considerable time and thought on the matter, throw the matter over to my wife whose busy cooking, watching the oven, and probably mentally running over a multitudinous to-do list in her mind—and she gives the answer immediately. But it’s not just in appearance that Pigpen resembles the Baptist. When the girl with the naturally curly hair (obviously, St. Rose of Lima before her conversion) complains about Pigpen, Charlie Brown tells us to think of his dust as ‘maybe the dust tread by King Nebuchadnezzar’ –a subtle, and admittedly unintentional, reference to the post-Exile theology of the Hebrews, which gave rise to the Essenes whom many scholars suggest were so influential in John’s prophetic office.
• Schroeder: It’s tempting to just throw out St. Cecelia, here, and be done with it. Yet, I don’t think Schroeder is just one saint. Instead, I think he’s a composite of all those uncanonized saintly painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, composers and writers the Church has produced in the last two millennia who through their single-minded devotions to their craft have brought such beauty into the world.
• Snoopy: And, finally, Snoopy. While Schroeder may be a composite of all the great, uncanonized artists of the Church, Snoopy clearly symbolizes one, particular writer—as yet uncanonized—who I shouldn’t wonder is not just my favorite writer but also that of many of those reading this essay: G.K. Chesterton. When Snoopy takes that imaginary flight against the Red Barron in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” you just know the author of The Ballad of White Horse often did the same; imagining himself in chivalrous battle, bravely enduring being shot down behind enemy lines, sharing a beer and comradery with his companions-in-arms. Snoopy’s zest for living is purely Chestertonian.
Undoubtedly, some (even most) of these comparisons may seem a bit of a stretch. But, then, how much more so when we try to see the saints in those around us, especially those who make it so difficult. Allow me to offer a consolation. At the very end of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”—after Lucy’s noticed ‘it’s not really that bad of a tree’’—all those little saints, en masse, shift over, remove the decorations from Snoopy’s doghouse, and in a flurry of activity decorate that pitiful tree, making it beautiful. That’s what happens when we ask the saints to pray for us and others. It’s messy and a bit chaotic, but it is our Catholic faith and hope which calls us, even demands of us, to offer such prayers.
Allow me to conclude by joining the entire Peanut’s gang and offering a hearty, “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” to you and yours!
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