Last Tuesday (December 6) the Church celebrated the feast of Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra. The Gospel for that day (Matthew 18:12) is about the good shepherd who left his 99 sheep just to look for one stray sheep. The priest said that the Gospel reading suits the story of Saint Nicholas because he acted as a good shepherd during his stint as a bishop. Saint Nicholas is a good shepherd because he knew the needs of his flock, or the people in his Diocese. The saint is widely known for his charity and generosity to poor.
There is one story where Saint Nicholas discovered that a poor widower, unable to support his three maiden daughters, decided to make his daughters work as prostitutes. The saint placed the church's gold in three bags and secretly threw them through the window of the widower's house. The gold served as the dowry for widower's daughters. Saint Nicholas was also involved in other stories wherein he is shown as the helper of the poor and the needy.
I thought that the priest's homily about Saint Nicholas end there until he said that that saint is the popular Santa Claus. Devotion to Saint Nicholas became popular years even after his death. Many people were inspired by his story of charity. Even the oil, known as Manna di S. Nicola, flowing from the relic of Saint Nicholas is highly valued for its medicinal powers.
So, how Saint Nicholas of Myra, who looks like this:
came to look like this:
|(Source: Web Design Hot)|
The transformation of Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus came about when Dutch Protestants brought the distorted story of Saint Nicholas to America. The Dutch portrayed Saint Nicholas as a Nordic magician who helps the needy. Santa Claus is now a jolly, fat, white-bearded old man who enters chimney just to give gifts to “nice” kids.
I always lament that Santa Claus replaced the baby Jesus during the Christmas Season. Instead of anticipating the birth of Christ, people are waiting for their gifts under the Christmas tree courtesy of Santa Claus. Well, it seems like it is not only Jesus who was replaced by the commercialized Santa Claus. The first victim is Saint Nicholas.
Santa Claus has a shallow kind of generosity. If you are a nice person, then you can expect a gift from Santa. In this case, the gift became a bribe to make the child behave well. It teaches a child to expect an instant gift whenever do good things.
Saint Nicholas' generosity is much deeper. Being “nice” is not a requirement for him whenever he helps someone. The widower in the story is not a nice person because he wanted his daughter to become prostitutes. Saint Nicholas did not turn his back to the widower and his daughters. On the contrary, he gave them three bags of gold!
Jesus Christ told us to love our neighbors, including those who are not nice to us. Our Lord said “for if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even publicans do that? And if you salute your brethren only, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do that?” (Matthew 5:46-47).We Christians are expected to love and aid anyone like Saint Nicholas did because if we love and aid just those who are nice, like what Santa Claus is doing, then are we doing more than the others?
I encountered an amusing story about Saint Nicholas. A heretic named Arius is teaching that Jesus Christ is not Divine but merely created by the Father. Saint Nicholas can’t stand the lies of Arius so he punched Arius on the face. Here is the painting that immortalized the smack down of Arius:
Because of Saint Nicholas violent action, he was stripped off of his rank as a bishop and was sent to prison. Nicholas’ personal copy of the Gospel and the Episcopal pallium, symbols of being a bishop, was taken away. Jesus Christ and Mama Mary visited Saint Nicholas in his cell and asked him what he is doing inside the prison. Saint Nicholas answered: “Because I love you, my Lord and my God.”
Jesus then gave Nicholas his copy of the Gospel and Mama Mary vested her of his pallium, thus returning to his rank as bishop.
No one can ever imagine the commercialized Santa Claus to pull a punch to the naughty boys and girls. All he can do is laugh “ho ho ho” all the way. Well, the real Santa Claus knows how to use his fist for the sake of his love to God.
I am not telling you to punch those who blaspheme the Lord. What I am saying is that we should not hesitate to the hard things to make other people realize the Truth.