Leave a comment

Advent Day 16 ~ Rejoice! The Lord is near!

Third Sunday of Advent ~ Sunday December 16, 2018

In our Catholic liturgical calendar this is “Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Joy.    We’re more than half way through Advent and the vestment color is Rose, rather than purple, the color of penitence.  So, we see the celebrant in rose vestments.

This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but . . . some us don’t see things clearly, or can’t speak up for ourselves or are disabled.  some of us are afraid ~ disillusioned ~ confused ~ depressed ~ lonely ~ weak-kneed and in need of a good old-fashioned infusion of hope and joy, and so . . .

Brothers and sisters:
Rejoice in the Lord always.
I shall say it again: rejoice!
Your kindness should be known to all.
The Lord is near.
Have no anxiety at all, but in everything,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
make your requests known to God.
Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4: 4-7)

In our Gospel today we hear again about John the Baptist.  The Jews were sure that God favored their nation; that God would judge other nations by one standard but the Jews by another. They felt they were safe from judgment simply because they were Jewish. John told them otherwise: that life, not their heritage was God’s standard of judgment, according to Scripture scholar William Barclay.

Barclay tells us that there are three outstanding things about John the Baptist’s message.

(1) He demanded that people should share with one another. It was a social gospel that declared that God would not be pleased if someone had too much while others had too little.

(2) He told people not to leave their jobs, but to work out their salvation by doing those jobs as they should be done. Let the tax collector be a good tax collector and a soldier be a good soldier.

The crowds asked John the Baptist,
“What should we do?”
He said to them in reply,
“Whoever has two cloaks
should share with the person who has none.
And whoever has food should do likewise.”
Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him,
“Teacher, what should we do?”
He answered them,
“Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.”
Soldiers also asked him,
“And what is it that we should do?”
He told them,
“Do not practice extortion,
do not falsely accuse anyone,
and be satisfied with your wages.” (Lk 3:10-15)

In other words, when people came to the Baptist and asked, “What should we do?” he gave them the most reasonable, commonsense reply. He says, in effect, “ Live reality. God is asking you to be faithful to the ordinary circumstances of your life. He will make himself evident there.

And with that advice, “ the people were filled with expectation, asking in their hearts whether John might be the Christ.” All because John made them attentive to their own hearts in a way that neglected nothing of their humanity. They can exult with their own heart because they can now trust that the desires of their heart are not illusions. They have no anxiety for the Lord is near as the next moment and whatever it brings.                         (Magnificat liturgical magazine, December, 2018, ed.)

Now the people were filled with expectation,
and all were asking in their hearts
whether John might be the Christ.
John answered them all, saying,
“I am baptizing you with water,
but one mightier than I is coming.
I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor
and to gather the wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Exhorting them in many other ways,
he preached good news to the people. 

(3)  (Barclay) John was quite sure that he himself was only the forerunner. The King was still to come and with him would come judgment. The winnowing fan was a great flat wooden shovel; with it the grain was tossed into the air, the heavy grain would fall to the ground, but the chaff would be blown away. And just as the chaff was separated from the wheat so the King would separate the good and the bad.

Thus, John painted a picture of judgment and it could be faced with confidence by those who had looked after their neighbor’s needs and faithfully done their day’s work. (Barclay / Luke pp.44.2)

John was simply the sign-post, pointing the way toward Christ.  He was faithful even unto imprisonment and death and content to simply be the messenger.

My spiritual director some time ago suggested I pray to John the Baptist, and so I do so now . .  .

O John, how lovingly you served your Lord.

I am dumbfounded at my own lack of humility,  

my refusal to serve, the meager way I have served him.  

You inspire me, even in my later years to wait upon my God to act in my life,

to wait for him to do new things.  

Thank you, John, for your service-unto-death;

ask for the grace, the strength and the courage to also serve my Lord unto the end of my days.  

     Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.  Amen.

And before you go, here is a 1970-ish John the Baptist and company from Godspell singing a spirited Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord!  Click here. 

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like them. Click here.

 

 

Leave a comment

Advent Day 13 ~ In the Midst of the Mist of our Lives

photo (c) bob traupman 2007. all rights reseved

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Misty mornings can be cool, Lord.

They can teach us about You, about us.

There’s lots of misty-ness in our lives, Lord.

We often don’t see anything very clearly.

But You are still there, our sun, the Son,
somehow, some way, penetrating  the fog, the mist.

Help us realize that mist is OK, Lord.
Misty-ness has its own beauty.

Thank You, Lord, for what it teaches us about You, about us.

Teach us to be patient, Lord, to wait.
To wait for the light, our light, Your light.
Come Lord, Jesus this Christmas
in our lives and in our world.

Your light will come, Jerusalem;
Your light will come, dear people of God;
the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.
You will see his glory within you.
       – the Advent liturgy.

And now before you go, here is more from Handel’s Messiah. Click on this link >>> Rejoice Greatly O Daughter Zion!  ‘Tis Awesome! Be sure to enter full screen. 

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

photo bob traupman 2007.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Leave a comment

Advent Day 12 ~ The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe ~ God prefers the poor

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent ~

THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE

imagen_pic_300w

Today,we honor our sister and brothers in Mexico

as they celebrate the appearance of the Mother of Jesus  to a poor peasant native Mexican.

Today, may we unite ourselves in solidarity with all the peoples of North and South and Central America who rejoice in this feast day; indeed may we unite ourselves in solidarity with  all the world’s poor.

 Half way down is an interpretation of the symbolism of the image that of the woman who appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak.  That’s  truly amazing.  Be sure to check it out  It converted a whole culture.

Here’s the charming story; it’s well worth the read:

An elderly Indian man named Chuauhtlatoczin (“Juan Diego” in Spanish) had a vision of Mary, the mother of Jesus, at Tepeyac, a squalid Indian village outside of Mexico City, 470 years ago. Mary directed Juan Diego to tell the bishop to build the church in Tepeyac. The Spanish bishop, however, dismissed the Indian’s tale as mere superstition. He asked that he bring some sort of proof, if he wanted to be taken seriously. Three days later, the Virgin Mary appeared again and told Juan Diego to pick the exquisitely beautiful roses that had miraculously bloomed amidst December snows, and take them as a sign to the bishop. When the Indian opened his poncho to present the roses to the bishop, the flowers poured out from his poncho to reveal an image of the Virgin Mary painted on the inside of the poncho.

That image hangs today in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City and is venerated by millions of pilgrims from all over the world.

Significantly, Mary appeared not as a white-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-haired European Madonna but as a dark-skinned, brown-eyed, black-haired “Tonantzin,” the revered Indian Mother, and she spoke to Juan Diego not in cultured Castillian but in his own Nahuatal language. She spoke in the language of the powerless, disenfranchised, and despised Indians. She was then and is today, “La Morenita” – the Brown One. Her message to the bishop was that God’s church should be built out on the fringes of society, amidst the poor and the downtrodden. The vision challenged the powerful conquerors, the Spaniards of Mexico City, to change their way of thinking and acting. It challenged them to move out from their position of power and influence to the periphery; to leave their magnificent cathedral and build God’s house in Tepeyac – among the poor and the despised, away from the center of power and culture and education and the arts.

Guadalupe is a “vision” story and, like all such stories, tells us something about God and something about ourselves. More precisely, it tells us how God wants to be among us. St. Juan Diego’s vision of where God wants to be or whom we should listen to should come as no surprise to us. Throughout history, God has consistently chosen to be with poor people. In that respect, the Blessed Virgin Mary’s message to St. Juan Diego at Guadalupe is a restatement of Jesus’ mission: That God is in those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned, naked, sick, stranger, and suffering. The challenge for us is to heed the message of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the message of Christ’s Gospel, and reach out to those who belong to the margins of our society.  – Source: The Manila Bulletin online.

God of power and mercy,

you blessed the Americas at Tepeyac

with the presence of the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe.

May her prayers help all men and women

to accept each other as brothers and sisters

Through your justice present in our hearts

may your peace reign in our world.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

. . . official prayer from the Mass of the feast

The Image of Our Lady is actually an Aztec Pictograph

that was read and understood quickly by the Aztec Indians.

1.    THE LADY STOOD IN FRONT OF THE SUN

She was greater than the dreaded Huitzilopochtli, their
sun-god of war.
2.    HER FOOT RESTED ON THE CRESCENT
MOON
She had clearly crushed Quetzalcoatl,
the feathered serpent moon-god.
3.   THE STARS STREWN ACROSS THE MANTLE
She was greater than the stars of heaven which they worshiped.
She was a virgin and the Queen of the heavens for Virgo rests over her womb and the northern crown upon her head.
She appeared on December 12, 1531 and the stars that she wore are the constellations of the stars that appeared in the sky that day!
4.   THE BLUE‑GREEN HUE OF HER MANTLE
She was a Queen because she wears the color of royalty.
5.   THE BLACK CROSS ON THE BROOCH AT HER NECK
Her God was that of the Spanish Missionaries, Jesus Christ her son who died
on the cross for all mankind.
6.   THE BLACK BELT
She was with child because she wore the Aztec Maternity Belt.
7.   THE FOUR PETAL FLOWER OVER THE WOMB
She was the Mother of God because the flower was a special symbol of
life, movement and deity-the center of the universe.
8. HER HANDS ARE JOINED IN PRAYER
She was not God but clearly there was one greater than Her and she
pointed her finger to the cross on her brooch.
9. THE DESIGN ON HER ROSE COLORED GARMENT
She is the Queen of the Earth because she is wearing a contour map of
Mexico telling the Indians exactly where the apparition took place.

ABOUT THIS IMAGE . . .

1.   The image to this date, cannot be explained by science.

2.  The image shows no sign of deterioration after 450 years!
The tilma or cloak of Saint Juan Diego on which the image of Our Lady has
been imprinted, is a coarse fabric made from the threads of the maguey
cactus. This fiber disintegrates within 20-60 years!

3. There is no under sketch, no sizing and no protective over-varnish on the
image.

4.  Microscopic examination revealed that there were no brush strokes.

5.  The image seems to increase in size and change colors due to an unknown
property of the surface and substance of which it is made.

6.  According to Kodak of Mexico, the image is smooth and feels like a
modern-day photograph.  (Produced 300 years before the invention of
photography.)

7. The image has consistently defied exact reproduction, whether by brush or
camera.

8.  Several images can be seen reflected in the eyes of the Virgin. It is
believed to be the images of Juan Diego, Bishop Juan de Zummaraga, Juan
Gonzales, the interpreter and others.

9.  The distortion and place of the images are identical to what is produced in
the normal eye which is impossible to obtain on a flat surface.

10. The stars on Our Lady’s Mantle coincide with the constellations in the sky on
December 12, 1531. All who have scientifically examined the image of Our
Lady over the centuries confess that its properties are absolutely unique
and so inexplicable in human terms that the image can only be supernatural!

IN SEARCH OF A SONG TO HELP CELEBRATE THE FEAST THE ONE I GOOGLED WAS “MANANITAS  GUADALUPE,” WHICH MEANS.”BREAK OF DAY”.  YOU’LL FIND THEM, STILL AT NIGHT, WATCHING AND WAITING. BE PATIENT. THE VIDEOGRAPHER WILL EVENTUALLY TAKE YOU INSIDE THE CHURCH TO WITNESS SOMETHING AMAZING TO US GRINGOS. ENJOY.

 BE SURE TO TURN UP YOUR SPEAKERS AND ENTER FOR SCREEN. CLICK HERE.

And here are today’s Mass readings. if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

Contemplative Writer

 

Leave a comment

Advent Day 9 ~ Where are you going?

photo (c) bob traupman 2007. all rights reserved.

MONDAY OF THE SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT

“Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!”  Isaiah 40:3

This image was taken on I-95 between Jacksonville and St. Augustine one misty December Sunday morning about 2 AM.  I was living in St. Augustine at the time.

On my way home from “Father Bob’s night out,” I was so taken by the magic of the vista before me I had to pull on the shoulder and capture it on my Canon Power Shot.

For me, even the interstate can be a place for reflection. . .

I was thinking of John the Baptist’s message that also appeared in the gospel for that Sunday:

“Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.”

And this was what I wrote back then, inspired by that moment on the side of a highway at 2 AM on a magical ~ mystical Sunday morning.

Where are we going, Lord?

Every day we’re on a journey that will not be complete until we meet You.

In our daily commutes, stuck in traffic, are we making progress in our spiritual journey, Lord?

Are we making a straight highway in the spiritual wasteland that America is today, Lord?

John’s message was one of repentance.

When he said, “make straight His paths,” he meant  to clear a way for the coming of God into our hearts and souls.

Help us get rid of the roadblocks that stop us from making progress.  Our addictions.  Our resentments. Our selfishness, Lord. Our incivility toward one another.

If we don’t make an effort to do that, our Christmas will be hollow ~ empty.

In all of our pre-Christmas bustle and hustle are we preparing a straight path for You to come
into our hearts, our homes, our workplace, our land, our world this Christmas?

What are we doing, Lord?  Really doing with our lives?

Where is our life’s journey taking us?

What is life really  all about?

I-95 at 2 AM helped me ponder that question.

I realized that was a special moment for me, a moment I seized.

Or rather seized me.

Carpe diem.

Thank you, Lord.

On Monday morning there would be a return to frenzied /  furied  / hurried / unaware / unreflected lives of  many going to and fro and not knowing really where they were going.

Time for a change, dear friend?  Time for a change?

Here’s a video from Godspell: Where are You Going? Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d care to reflect on them. (The first reading from Isaiah is a very beautiful piece of poetry. Check it out). Click here.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

Leave a comment

Advent Day 8 ~ The Second Sunday of Advent ~ The herald of the King

The Second Sunday of Advent ~ Sunday, December 9, 2018

As we examine the gospel of Luke this year, we see that for this gospel writer, the emergence of John the Baptist was one of the hinges on which history turned. He dramatically dates it in three different ways.  Here’s the text . . .

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, 
when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, 
and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region
of Ituraea and Trachonitis, 
and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 
during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, 
the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.
John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, 
proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 
as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah:

A voice of one crying out in the desert:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
Every valley shall be filled
and every mountain and hill shall be made low.
The winding roads shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”  (Lk. 3:1-6)

First of all, he begins by citing Roman, that is, Gentile—not Jewish history.   Tiberius was the successor of Augustus and therefore the second of the Roman emperors. Luke thus begins by setting the emergence of John against a world background, that of the Roman empire—this according to scripture scholar William Barclay.

The next three dates are connected to the political organization of Palestine, mentioning Pontius Pilate, Herod and his brother Philip.

And then turning to the religious situation, he dates John’s emergence in the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the actual high priest, Annas was still the most influential priestly figure in the land. (All these men, of course, were also to be actors on the stage of Jesus’ trial and execution a few years later.)

Barclay suggests a unique way of understanding the quotation from Isaiah 40:3-5:

“When a king proposed to tour a part of his dominions, he sent a courier before him to tell the people to prepare the roads. So John is regarded as the King’s courier or herald. But the preparation on which he insisted was a preparation of heart and of life. ‘The King is coming,’ he said. ‘Mend. Not your roads, but your lives.’”

There’s also an interesting point about Luke’s quotation of Isaiah here that’s different from the other three gospels. He brings it to its logical conclusion: “And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke is the gospel for the Gentiles—the gospel for everyone; he excludes no one, like our Pope Francis.

The King shall come when morning dawns

And light triumphant breaks,

When beauty gilds the eastern hills

And life to joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,

To bear, and fight, and die,

But crowned with glory like the sun

That lights the morning sky.

The King shall come when morning dawns

And light and beauty brings.

Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray:

Come quickly, King of kings. 

And, before you go, here’s a rendering of Handel’s And the glory of the Lord that contains the line quoted in Isaiah.   Click here, and be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers.

And here are all of Sunday’s Mass readings for your reflection: Click here.

With love, 

Bob Traupman 

Contemplative Writer 

Acknowledgment:  William Barclay / The New Daily Study Bible / The Gospel of Luke                                                                                             Westminster John Knox Press / Louisville, KY / 1975-2001

 

Leave a comment

Advent Day 7 ~ Our Lady’s Song of Justice ( and Hanukkah Day 6)

THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

Saturday, December 8, 2018

This is a feast of Mary for us Catholics.  In today’s gospel, we read the story of Mary’s Yes to God, her consent to bring Jesus into our world.

I offer for your reflection the Song of Mary that Luke places upon her lips ~ the Magnificat, sung or recited everywhere in the church throughout the world each evening of the year.

And as you’ll see, it has a pretty radical message ~ if you allow yourself to think about it.

And Mary said:  “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy on those who fear him in every generation

He has shown might with his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast  down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.

The hungry he has filled with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel,

for he has remembered the promise of his mercy,

       the promise he made to our fathers [and mothers]

to Abraham [and Sarah and Hagar] and [their] children for ever.

+ + + +

The song speaks of lowliness ~ humility. Yet it recognizes what God does in our lives.

Look with favor on US too, Lord.

Please ~ We need Your favor, Your grace.

May we see (and accept) that You do good things for us, too.

May we cry out every day:  Holy is Your name, my God!

Let Your mercy be on us and our world.

Show Your strength, Lord ~ the strength of Your justice.

Scatter the proud, the arrogant ones who control so much of our world.

Cast down the mighty!

Lift up the lowly!

Fill the hungry!

Send the rich empty away as the ones in Power often do to the poor, Lord.

Come to the help of Your people now, Lord!

We, too, are all descendants of Abraham ~ Jew ~ Muslim ~Christian~ non-believer.

We are all Your children, dear God,

To You be glory and honor and praise for ever.  Amen!

Dear Reader,

The Evangelist Luke places these words in the mouth of Mary at the very beginning of the story of Jesus.  It is the “Magnificat,” the Canticle of Mary, sung or recited by priests and nuns and monks and many more believing Christians all over the world every day of the year at Evensong.  So, it’s a pretty important text to reflect upon.

I would like you to notice how radical this message is: “Cast down the mighty.” “Raise up the lowly.”  “Send the rich away empty.”

Sounds like a pretty political message, doesn’t it?

People have been thrown into prison for saying things like that.

But these words are two thousand years old!

They’re an essential and enduring part of the Christmas story as told by Luke.

It’s a Song about Justice from the lips of Mary, the Mother of God as told by Luke. About Justice entering our world.

I have sung Mary’s Song every evening for 30 years with spontaneous melodies arising from the mood of my soul of the moment.

And in that, I try to live the song!

How do you respond, dear friend?

How do you respond? 

There are political messages buried in this song that are pretty obvious for us right now ~ or at any age or in any country.  If the shoe fits, wear it!

Now to thrill you and inspire you, here’s introduction to Bach’s Magnificat on You Tube.  If you scroll down the right side of the page, you will find other segments of the concert as well.  Or you can Google “Magnificat videos” and have an amazing choice, including Shubert and Mozart and John Michael Talbot Be sure to enter FULL SCREEN.  ENJOY!

And here are all of today’s Mass readings: Click here.

A special note for you:   The image above is a copy of the famous Vladimir icon. It hangs upon the wall in my living room opposite my chair where I pray and write.

With love,

Bob Traupman

contemplative writer

 

Leave a comment

Advent Day 5 ~ The Feast of St. Nicholas December 6th (the man and the legend) (and Hanukkah Day 4)

Advent Day 5 ~ St. Nicholas’ Feast Day ~ December 6th. 2018

Here’s 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, and 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 Nicea in AD 325. He died on 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 (December 19 on the old Julian Calendar).

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

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.

One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer. Not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios’ parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas’ feast day approached, Basilios’ mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home—with quiet prayers for Basilios’ safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king’s golden cup. This is the first story told of St. Nicholas protecting children—which became his primary role in the West.

Nicholas’ tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas’ crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe’s great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as the “Saint in Bari.”

To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari’s great Basilica di San Nicola.

Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. Simple gift-giving in early Advent helps preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

Despite various variations of these customs handed down over the centuries, Dutch settlers brought the legend of Saint Nicholas, known to them as Sinter Klaas, to America towards the end of the 18th century. As their tradition goes, Sinter Klaas rode a white horse and left gifts in wooden shoes. This story merged with the British character Father Christmas, who dates back at least as far as the 17th century. Sinter Klaas was eventually Americanized to “Santa Claus.”

The rituals and fantasy surrounding Santa Claus became fixed in the modern American imagination with the publication of the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Moore in 1823. Better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” the poem established Santa’s physical appearance (plump and jolly), his mode of transportation (a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer), and his method of toy delivery (down the chimney) for generations to come.

Now before you go, here’s a delightful Polish Christmas carol for you. Click here.

And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.