Today we celebrate St. Nicholas, the fatherly bishop of Myra (then a Greek city near the sea, now the Turkish city of Demre). Yesterday I told our schoolchildren how, around the year 310, he quietly left bags of gold at night in the home of three poor women, saving them from misery. The children looked up in wonder as they made the connection: “Saint Nicholas … Santa Claus!”
St. Nicholas provided joy for his people during the Great Persecution of the emperor Diocletian. Today the Church is again under persecution, but in more subtle ways. Clever use of digital media trivializes the Gospel, cheap products and contemptible entertainment corrupt our hearts, and many Catholics have apostatized. Faithful clergy and parents ask what can be done as their children lose the joy of faith, becoming vacant-eyed slaves to their i-phones.
Nicholas of Myra grew up as the Roman Empire was declining. Educational, economic, and political systems were coming apart. In 395 the imperial armies collapsed, and by 410 Rome could not defend itself from gothic invaders who overran the Imperial City. Nevertheless, the good bishop did not lose his joy. He kept his eyes on Jesus. Many families in my own parish have not lost the joy of knowing Jesus either. Despite the confusion and anger around us today, these families and individuals radiate joy.
Today in the chapel, after morning prayer, St. Nicholas gave me the gift of joy. God had given it to him, and he gave it to me as I read about his life: “After the death of his parents, Nicholas began to consider how he might make use of his great wealth…. Some little time later Nicholas threw a double sum of gold into a house. The noise awakened the man inside, and he pursued the fleeing figure, calling out, ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t hide from me!’ and ran faster until he saw that it was Nicholas.” Picture this middle-aged father who had despaired to the point of selling his own daughters into prostitution — a death sentence, really — racing after the fleeing Nicholas. A thrill of hope surged through my core as I considered the joyful energy of both pursued and pursuer.
Later, when the local prelate was looking for a new bishop for Myra, “Nicholas, miraculously guided by God, went early to the church and was the first to enter.… Filled with the simplicity of a dove, he bowed his head and answered ‘Nicholas, the servant of your holiness.’ Then all the bishops led him in and installed him on the episcopal throne. But he, amidst his honors, always preserved his formed humility and gravity of manner.”
I urge you to read the lives of the saints early and often. The little monthly magazine Magnificat has a one-page saint story every day, and publishers like Ignatius Press have produced hundreds of book-length biographies. It is the Bible, and the Lives of the Saints, that will keep us from despairing in our own time of decline. Ask the saints to give you the gift of joy so that you will be able to give that same joy to your own children. St. Nicholas, pray for us!
The above comes from a Dec. 6 posting in Father Illo’s blog. Father Illo is pastor of Star of the Sea in San Francisco.
Indeed, St. Nicholas pray for us! So if asked I can say I do believe in “Santa Claus” (although probably not what they mean by the name), but I just don’t believe in Mrs. Claus.
Especially revered by Eastern Christians (Catholic and Orthodox), more churches bear his name than any other non-Biblical Saint. Maybe he shouldn’t have slapped the archheretic Arius in the face at the Council of Nicea. But, he and the other bishops in attendance had suffered greatly for Christ and His flock and knew that the priest Arius was misleading many of the faithful, including bishops. Saint Nicholas was imprisoned for that, but our Lord and His Mother appeared to him while in jail bearing the Book of the Gospels and his omophorion (bishop’s stole). He was restored to his episcopal office. In our official prayers on his day we chant/pray:
The truth of things revealed you to your flock as a rule of faith, / a model of meekness, and a teacher of temperance. / Through humility, you attained the heights; / and through poverty, riches. / O Father and Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ God that our souls may be saved.
You were shown forth in Myra as an officiant of the sacred rites, / for you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, O Venerable Nicholas, by laying down your life for your people, / and saving the innocent from death. / Therefore, you were sanctified as a great initiate of God’s grace.
And, thanks for posting the icon. Like other Eastern churches, St. Nicholas is on the iconostasis or icon screen at our parish church.
When Aviso, CA, still had enough water in its bay to float a boat, Fr. William Stout, S.J. (may he rest in peace) dressed up as Bishop Nicholas, get in a boat and brought candy to the children in his church there. i am sure there are still many older people who have found memories of that. The many wonderful things he did are still online.
And, as you may know, Fr. Stout was the chaplain for the San Jose Fire Dept. for many years. I didn’t know he served the parish in Alviso (when its average household income was considerably less than today), but it’s not surprising. He truly had a heart for those in need. He was a Saint Nicholas figure. Might I even say a type of icon (image) of Saint Nicholas?
I have the funeral card of him wearing his firefighters’ helmet. I think he used a boat since Bishop Nicholas is also patron of sailors. There is another St. Nicholas who was a sailor, and some think some of his stories might have been mixed up with those of Bishop Nicholas. The way they are told, though, I kind of doubt it. Perhaps both performed such miracles.
Fr. Stout served both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Masses, and his sermons were Catholic history lessons. He had a marvelous memory to the end.
Thank you Father Illo for your wonderful reflections during Advent. I look forward to my “Advent” email everyday. God bless.
I have known families– both Catholic and Lutheran– from different countries of Europe, with charming customs on St. Nicholas’ Feast Day. Recently, I read that Christian actor, Kirk Cameron, has been turned down by more than 50 libraries, so far, when his publisher was seeking a Library Story Hour time slot, for Cameron’s new faith and family children’s book, imparting Biblically-based, good values. Yet, many of these same libraries have held diabolical, dangerous “Drag Queen Story Hours,” for small children– a Satanic horror! America desperately needs good, solid leadership, in good, traditional Christian family values!