Will the real Santa Claus please stand up!?
We see pictures of him at the North Pole employing elves that not only make toys but are often used as spies. He slides down chimneys, wears a red suit and rides in a sleigh…or does he? Did you know that the historic Saint Nicholas was a Bishop in Greece?* He gave away all of his wealth, radically helped the poor and needy, fiercely protected children and suffered greatly for his faith?
I pray that as you read his amazing story, you will be inspired to do four things:
Pray to St. Nicholas to intercede for our Bishops that they too will do all that is radically necessary to protect God’s children, both young and old.
Be inspired to do a random (extravagant perhaps?) act of kindness for somebody who could use a little extra help and love. (I saw a woman joyfully hand out $20 bills to each of the street cleaners on her block yesterday... St. Nic would have been proud!)
Go out of your way to assist the very poor and helpless. Yes you! Buy a homeless person a cup of coffee or a sandwich! Find out his or her name. Be a friend. Picture them as Jesus in disguise. (**Read below the beautiful and true story of the late President George H.W. Bush and his personal impact on one man’s life.)
Pray about coming on the Holy Land Pilgrimage. St. Nicholas went and it forever changed his life. (Ask him for this gift for Christmas! ;) Filling up fast!
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th--TODAY!
One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.
Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus' life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.
St. Nicholas was a great deal more than just jolly--he was holy. May we be inspired to be holy too.
“To me, therefore, you shall be holy; for I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from other peoples to be my own.” Leviticus 20:26.
It is hard to be holy even in this “holy “ season. Grant to me the spirit of self sacrifice, love, and courage that are the hallmarks of the life of St. Nicholas. Help me to be like him, radical in generosity, fiercely protective of those I love and most importantly, wildly, passionately in love with You-- all other good will flow from there.
I ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Want to learn more about St. Nicholas? Click here. (All info for this blog taken from this sight).
** It was reported in the Washington Post November 29, 2000 (and personally verified to me by a close friend of the Bush family) that as President George H. W. Bush was entering St. John’s Church one Sunday morning a homeless man yelled out- “Hey Mr. President, will you pray for me?” President Bush responded a surprising, “No” and paused...looking at the man, politely said, “Come inside with us--and pray for yourself." The man entered St. John’s Church and prayed with the President. That friendship continued and the man became a vital member of St. John’s Church and for years was there every Sunday, faithfully, rain or shine always putting a dollar in the collection plate. When the man, William Wallace Brown, Jr. passed away the Church was packed with mourners and he was buried in "The Church of the Presidents" columbarium where fewer than one hundred members have had the honor of being placed since 1816.
You never know what one person reaching out with the love of Christ will do for another soul.
Be that person this season.