In a pivotal moment during the stop motion animated film Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the humbled and seemingly defeated Winter Warlock exclaims, “I really am a mean and despicable creature at heart you know. It is so difficult to really change.” Kris Kringle’s reaction to that comment is a hearty laugh and the reply, “Difficult? Why look here, changing from bad to good is as easy as taking your first step.” Then he breaks out in song, singing the children’s Christmas classic Put One Foot In Front Of The Other. As you watch Kringle prance around the enchanted forest emboldening penguins, reindeer and the icy Warlock to change, you can’t help but be nostalgically inspired. Yes, it only took 3 minutes and a little Christmas magic to convert the entire forest, not too bad for a day’s work at the North Pole.
While on the screen this conversion seems to happen instantly, the lyrics and message of Put One Foot In Front Of The Other seem to be saying something completely different - transformation and change is not instantaneous, progress is made by taking steps. This fundamental lesson is something that at times I think we forget as an American Catholic Church. As I talk with friends, family, co-workers and students about the many issues facing the Church I find all too often that we seem to talk more about the end goals or ideals, and not enough about our next steps. Don’t get me wrong, we need to have goals and a plan, walking aimlessly around the enchanted forest will accomplish nothing. At the same time however, walking a mile consists of taking more than one step.
The warlock has stirred up a blizzard of attacks against the right to life, the sanctity of Holy Matrimony and religious freedom that challenge our faith and at times our resolve. These issues are complex and difficult to combat and counteract, but not impossible. When we break the large task of ending these colossal injustices down into manageable steps we make steady progress. As young Catholics in America our simple strides slowly soften hardened hearts. Explaining the truth with charity to our friends and acquaintances is more effective than condemning elected officials. Caring for women who have had abortions and extending them hope and healing turns up the heat on organizations like Planned Parenthood and shows we practice what we preach.
In the end, we should remember that preserving the dignity of the human person must always be motivation for the steps we take to reach our goal. Corrupt people and organizations will crumble under their own weight if we just keep moving our feet forward. In fact, after stringing a few steps together, we might be surprised to find ourselves “walking out the door.”