“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.”
It is one of G.K. Chesterton’s best lines. A perfect quotation: humorous and serious, light and profound, commanding the language to serve the idea, with the added and unlikely device of a pun. A masterpiece in one sentence.
But what does it mean?
As some of you may know, I recently had the great privilege of being attacked not only for my work on behalf of the Society of G.K. Chesterton, for defending Chesterton against unseemly criticisms and for promoting his Cause for Sainthood, but also for starting the Chesterton Schools Network. The normal, human reaction to such a slur would be outrage. But I had Chesterton at my side, with his jolly laugh, reminding me, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” Over the last several years, I have been able to rise above a lot of grief and agitation and disturbance by heeding Chesterton’s words, by not taking myself too seriously.
But it has also occurred to me that Chesterton’s ringing and rising words of wisdom can serve as both a beacon of hope and of warning for the Chesterton schools.
“Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” What does it mean? It means we can achieve great things – and even greater things – if we don’t get too full of ourselves, if we always remember to put others before ourselves.
Not to do this has tragic results.
In today’s broken world, especially with its broken education system, which is part of the reason for the broken world, nothing very great is being achieved.
In fact, nearly nothing at all is being achieved when students can’t even achieve basic skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, much less studying great works of literature and philosophy, and learning the art of reason.
The lack of achievement is because students are not being taught to focus on a truth that is outside of themselves. They’re being taught to focus on themselves – on their identity, on their rights and their entitlements, and are not taught anything to benefit their unformed and unfilled minds. In the meantime, they have a hunger for truth and goodness and beauty, and it is completely unsatisfied in a system that is designed to starve them of these things. As a result, they are left angry and depressed, but also inarticulate – because they have not been taught to be articulate – so they cannot even express their frustration. And they collapse into their lonely inner world.
Angels fall because they don’t take themselves lightly.
Our fallen world is broken because everything is heavy, even words are heavy. One word can break you.
We are fighting that culture. It is the culture of death. At Chesterton Academy we are cultura vitae.
At Chesterton Academy, we have embraced the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who came that we might have life and have it more abundantly.
At Chesterton Academy, we have also tried to bring light … and lightness.
At our schools, you will not find that heaviness that has dragged down a lot of other schools. When you walk through our halls, you will hear laughter. It is the sound of Catholic joy.
Some people apparently think that the only purpose of a good education is to help you worry about what’s going on in the world. No, the purpose of education is to learn faith and reason so we can better love God and love our neighbor. Not by demanding our rights, but by doing what is right.
We started the first school because it was the right thing to do. We wanted a school for our children that was faithfully Catholic, profoundly classical, and affordable. There were no other schools that combined all three of these things. It has been a lot of work … but it works. In fact, our model works so well, that this year there will be over 60 Chesterton Academies across America and the world.
Education is humble work. But it has great rewards.
ABOUT DALE AHLQUIST
Dale Ahlquist is President of The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a worldwide lay apostolate dedicated to Catholic education, evangelization, and the social teaching of the church. He leads the Society’s Chesterton Schools Network, which exists to inspire and support the creation of joyfully Catholic, classical, and affordable high schools around the world. Learn More