What is your mental image of Saint Nicholas? Does he look like the portly, round faced version of Sinter Claus, or Santa Claus? We do know that among all the saints, Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints, we celebrated this optional feast on December 6th. Various countries and cultures begin gift giving this day, children leaving out shoes with straw for his horse, in the hopes of receiving some small gift. It anticipates the greater feast of Christmas which we prepare for with the assistance of John the Baptist who prepares the way of the Lord. So, what do we know about Saint Nicholas? He was a bishop in the busy seaport of Myra and people recognized his holiness early on. He resembled John the Baptist more than our image of the portly, jolly old elf image we may have in our mind’s eye for Nicholas. He was not stern like John, rather he led a faithful life, known as the patron of travelers, of unmarried women, children, fishermen, brewers, poets & prisoners. He was charitable and kind and helps us to find Jesus in the poor.
The best known story attributed to Nicholas describes his selflessness and generosity. “Nicholas was aware of a man who had three teenage daughters. The family was so poor they could not fill their bellies. And, without money for a dowry, there was no way the girls would ever find a husband. Faced with starvation, their only option would be prostitution. Nicholas wishing to remain anonymous, one night tossed a bag of gold through the open window of their house. When the man awoke the next morning, he found the gold. He thanked God for his good fortune. Thus, the oldest daughter was able to marry. A little while later, Holy Nicholas repeated the act for the second daughter and finally the third daughter. The father wanted to know who performed such a generous act of charity and rushed out to find Nicholas fleeing the scene. The saint swore him to secrecy, but eventually the story got out.”
Like John the Baptist, Nicholas points us towards Jesus, who is ultimately selfless, giving us the most important gifts we enjoy, love, mercy, forgiveness, showing us how to love, giving safety to travelers, and the patron of brides. As Nicholas showed us how to find Jesus in the poor, the oppressed and abused, may we find ways to be selfless, charitable and kind, especially to those who are in need. What a way to be vigilant, watchful and prepared for the coming feast of Christmas.
Fr. Larry Hendel, Pastor