Advent Day 19 ~ Depressed or lonely at Christmastime?
St. Augustine Beach Florida
O come, thou dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
~ O Antiphons
Monday of the fourth week of Advent
There sometimes can be a lot of depression swirling around at Christmastime. I’ve talked to several friends who spoke to me about their loneliness in during the holidays
Some of us can feel lonelier because we’re expected to be cheerful and we may just not feel much Christmas joy, but instead may feel plain down in the dumps or like diving into the bottom of a bottle.
This blog is meant for us to notice and reach out to our friends and pray for them.
Let’s be with those who have lost a loved one and still miss them.
Let’s also remember kids who are shuffled back from one parent to another to “celebrate” the holidays; that’s got to be a terrible thing to do to children.
And what about service men and women away from their families and others who have to work long hours and come home to an empty house.
And so, may we pray:
There are sometimes dark clouds in our lives, Jesus.
Pierce the gloominess of our lives with Your very own Light.
May we allow You to dawn in us this day.
May we be ready for Your dawning in a new way in our lives this Christmas.
May this celebration of Your birth bring meaning and joy in the midst of our worries and concerns.
And may we BE the dawning of your light and love and justice
in our homes, our neighborhoods, our jobs, our world.
And there are dark and ominous clouds over our world too, Lord.
Pierce our greed and hate, fear and complacency and violence with hope, Lord.
May we pray earnestly for a new dawn for our beloved country and our world.
May we BE the dawning of your light, your love and your justice in our land.
Lord Jesus, come!
We need Your Light and Your Love now more than ever.
And before you go, here’s Handel’s “His Yoke is Easy” Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.
The Fourth Sunday of Advent ~ Joseph’s dream
The Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 18, 2022
We’re quite used to hearing St. Luke’s version of the Annunciation story. But we’re in the A-cycle of readings this year that features the Gospel of Matthew.
Matthew’s Annunciation story is less known, so I’ve placed the entire text here for us to look at, because it’s a bit convoluted for our western mindset. With the help of our Scripture-scholar William Barclay and others, I’ll try to help us unpack this for us.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
Here’s where the confusion lies.
First, the text says that “Mary was betrothed to Joseph but before they were living together she was found with child.” Then it says, “since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Then the angel makes his Announcement that Mary will bear a son and he shouldn’t be afraid of taking Mary into his home.
Barclay indicates that in Jewish marriage procedure there were three steps.
1) There was the engagement, which was often made when the couple were only children, usually through the parents or through a professional matchmaker.
2) There was the betrothal, or the ratification of the betrothal. Once the betrothal was entered into it was absolutely binding. It lasted for one year. During that year the couple were known as man and wife. Mary and Joseph were at this stage. Joseph wanted to end the betrothal because she was pregnant, knowing he wasn’t responsible, but the separation could happen in no other way than by divorce . Mary was legally known as his wife during that year.
3) The third stage was the marriage proper.
Barclay/ The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 1 p.18
Now let’s take a deeper look at the meaning of Matthew’s Annunciation story.
Bishop Robert Baron offers a beautiful commentary for us . . . .
When Moses asked God for his name, the Lord mysteriously responds “I am who am.” Hebrew scholars tells us that the root sense of the [Hebrew word] is “I will be with you.” God identifies himself as the one who had pledged his solidarity with his suffering people Israel.
Writing during a time of particular trial in the history of the chosen people God will send a sign:
The virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which carries the sense that God is with us.
And has he wrestles with the terrible dilemma of what to do with his betrothed who had become pregnant, Joseph dreams of an angel who tells him to take Mary as his wife.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
God’s truest name and most distinctive quality is he will be with us. In good times and in bad, during periods of light and darkness, when we are rejoicing or grieving, God is stubbornly with us, EMMANUEL!
And here’s one more thought for you about our dear St. Joseph . . . .
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
The word awoke has the greater meaning of “to arise, to get up.” Gospel awakening / arising marks the beginning of a graced, personal transformation. One is struck by the rapid succession of these five verbs [he rose, he did, he took, he did not know, he called], indicating a sense of swiftness in everything Joseph did following his dream.
Joseph is the obedient man of action whose every move is attentive to the will of God.
He is the man called upon to love, cherish, nurture and protect the Mother and the Child while at the same time having to accomplish a profound renunciation of natural instincts.
His vocation is to be the visible fatherhood of God on earth.
O dear St. Joseph,
how I’ve come to love you even more
in writing this blog.
I seldom think of you or pray to you.
What a wonderful story St. Matthew weaves for us!
Help us, then, prepare for Jesus coming into our hearts.
And help me to be more like you.
Strong. Silent. Caring. Always there.
Thank you for what I’ve learned in writing about you.
What a grace!
And what about you, dear friends?
What do you take away from this story?
We only have six more days to prepare our hearts to receive our Lord and Savior as we celebrate his birth among us once again
Are you ready?
And now before you go, here’s the great Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Bishop Robert Baron is bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester and a regular contributor to the Magnificat monthly liturgical magazine from which this article was selected for December 18th, 2016. p. 266
Advent Day 17 – The Burning Bush of the World (and the beginning of Hanukkah)
Advent Day 17 ~ Saturday of the third week of Advent
(and the beginning of Hanukkah )
Advent themes are all about waiting for light to shine in our darkness.
For we who are Christians await, Jesus, Yeshua, who is for us the Light of the World.
We prepare a place for him to shine in our own hearts this day.
We invite you to search out your own inner meaning whatever that might be.
Hanukkah begins on Sunday after sundown. We honor our Jewish brothers and sisters with these words that appear in the Catholic liturgy just before Christmas, one of the seven magnificent O-Antiphons that begin on this day–seven days before Christmas Eve.
O Adonai and Ruler of the House of Israel,
you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and on Mount Sinai gave him your law.
Come, and with outstretched arm redeem us.
And my prayer . . .
O Adonai*, we need you in our world more than ever!
You appeared in the burning bush long ago.
I remember this awesome sunrise over the ocean when I lived more than a decade ago on St. Augustine Beach, Florida.
I’m reminded of the old sailor’s maxim: “Red at night, a sailor’s delight; red in the morning, sailors take warning.”
Come with your refiner’s fire and burn your way into our hearts.
so we can prepare the way for the Messiah to come into our lives,
into our homes,
our workplace and marketplace,
and, most especially into our beloved country that so badly needs You right now,
and our waiting world!
Come Lord Jesus!
What are the “O” Antiphons?”
If you’re interested in learning more about them, here’s a website that has information and recordings of all seven. Click here. (Skip the first half and scroll ALL the way down to the bottom for the O-Antiphons themselves. You will notice little speaker signs next to each one. If you click on those little music notes, it will play for you the actual chant melody for each O-Antiphon.
But before you go, here’s O come, O come Emmanuel with the lyrics that are the seven O-Antiphons in English for your reflection. Click here.
* Adonai is one of the names the Jewish people use for God, meaning “Lord God Almighty.”
And here’s some information about Hanukkah so that we can learn about our Hebrew Friends’ customs and celebrations and their meaning. Click here.
Advent Day 16 ~ Soar like an eagle!
The symbol for St. John is the eagle because he soars to the heights of mystical love
Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent
Isaiah is so amazing. He offers hope. He sees imminent possibilities for the human race.
At times, he also warns and sometimes chastises.
I’ve always loved this scripture that appear in the Advent Mass texts:
God gives strength to the fainting;
for the weak he makes vigor abound.
Though young men faint and grow weary,
and youths stagger and fall,
They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings;
They will run and not grow weary,
walk and not grow faint.
– Isaiah 40:30-31.
So many of us become discouraged by life, especially after months and months of sheltering in place because of this pandemic. Many of us may lose our job or have been told that we no longer have the health benefits we once had for our family.
We grow older and have more aches and pains and worry more. Some of us are couch potatoes and don’t exercise enough and get more depressed.
In these latter days of Advent, think about the ways you can restore your vigor ~ or better ~ ask the Lord to renew your strength! He will! As he has done for me again and again and again! I’ve been down many times; but he never ceases to raise me up again.
And you might note that the symbol for John the evangelist is the eagle, because he soars to the heights of mystical glory in his writings.
The Advent season provides many texts to comfort us and offer us hope. God knows we need hope in our land today! and throughout the world.
I praise you, Lord, because you’ve restored my vigor in marvelous ways.
You have renewed my strength again and again.
Please allow our young people to soar as if on eagle’s wings,
and our older folk to be borne up on the wings of Your love, Lord.
Yes, as I grow older, I’m ready to renew my priestly service to You, Lord,
as long as you grant me the grace, the vigor and the strength.
Whatever You will, Lord. Whatever you will – for all of us! Amen.
Now, before you go, here is one of our great Catholic liturgical songs ~ “On Eagles’ Wings” Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
Here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. It’s the lovely feast of St. John of the Cross. Click here.
(Below, I’ll provide you a link if you’d like to know some more about this lovely poet and co-founder of the reformed Carmelite Order alongside St. Teresa of Avila in the sixteenth century.)
St.John of the Cross is known especially for his writings. He was mentored by and corresponded with the older Carmelite, Teresa of Avila. Both his poetry and his studies on the development of the soul are considered the summit of all Spanish literature. Read more.
Advent Day 16 The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – God prefers the poor
The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe – December 12, 2022
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.
Here is the charming story:
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, 471 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 thousands 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.
. . . a prayer from today’s Mass
The Image of Our Lady is actually an Aztec Pictograph
which 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
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.
The Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Science
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
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
7. The image has consistently defied exact reproduction, whether by brush or
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 inexplicable in human terms that the image can only be supernatural!
In search if a song to help celebrate the Feast, the one I found 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 full screen, CLICK HERE.
Here are today’s Mass readings. Click here.
Rejoice! The Lord is near!
The Third Sunday of Advent ~ December 11, 2022
In our Catholic liturgical calendar this is “Gaudete Sunday — the Sunday of Joy. We’re halfway through Advent and the vestment color is Rose, rather than purple, the color of penitence. So, we may see the celebrant in rose vestments.
This is supposed to be a joyful time of year but . . . some us are blind to the reality of their lives or what’s really happening in the world around them, or can’t speak up for ourselves or are disabled. Some of us are afraid or disillusioned; confused or depressed; lonely or weak-kneed or just plain in need of an infusion of hope and joy, so . . .
Today’s first reading from Isaiah 35:1-6,10 sums up the joyful, hopeful mood of this third Advent Sunday . . . .
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
they will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
In last Sunday’s gospel, we found John the Baptist preaching and baptizing along the Jordan River to great crowds of people. But in today’s gospel, we find him in prison.
Our Presbyterian scripture scholar William Barclay commented that John’s career ended –I would say– in desolation and loneliness. It wasn’t John’s habit to soften the truth. Herod Antipas had paid a visit to his brother in Rome and seduced his brother’s wife. He came home again, dismissed his own wife, and married the sister-in-law whom he lured away from her husband. Publicly and sternly John rebuked Herod. Consequently, John was thrown into the dungeons of the fortress of Machaerus in the mountains near the Dead Sea.
For a man who lived in the wild open spaces with the sky above and the wind blowing through his hair, this was surely agony. So he may have had some doubts. He sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask . . . .
Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?
Jesus said to them in reply,
Go and tell John what you see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear [ . . .] and the poor have the good news preached to them.
John’s joy was to witness the unfolding of God’s plan of salvation and to play his assigned role within it. The way of fidelity to God and cooperation with God’s gift of himself to the world leads through dungeons of human injustice and cruelty . . . . John was always acting as one whose every fiber is oriented to serving a greater good than himself. John’s humility took the form of an ability to wait without end for God to act.
And you probably know how John’s story ended: Herodias hated John, even though Herod wanted him alive. She kept looking for a way to get rid of the Baptist. The time finally came at a birthday party for the ruler at which her daughter Salome danced for Herod in which he promised “half of his kingdom” to her. Herodias got Salome to demand Herod in front of his guests to ask for John’s head on a platter (Mt. 14)
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, my meager efforts when I do serve.
You inspire me, John, 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 for your service-unto-death;
I ask for–you, my Readers, and for me–the grace, the strength and the courage to also serve our Lord unto the end of our days. Amen.
Before you go, here’s a selection from Handel’s Messiah by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for your listening pleasure. Click here. Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen.
And here are all the of the Readings for today’s Mass, if you’d like those as well. Click here.
William Barclay / The Daily Study Bible Series / The Gospel of Matthew – Volume 2 / Revised Edition The Westminster Press / Philadelphia Pa 1975
I would also add a note about the image of the Christmas cactus shown above. I set that up in the Florida room of friends many years ago. (I hope they’ll tell me if it’s still blooming so many years hence!)
Advent Day 8 ~ Our Lady’s Song of Justice
THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Thursday, December 8, 2022
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 quite a 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 with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
His mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
He has shown strength of 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!
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 ~ especially as this pandemic continues to claim it’ victims!
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!
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 very 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 as our country struggles to find itself~ or at any age or in any country.
Now to thrill you and inspire you, here’s John Michael Talbot’s Magnificat.
Be sure to enter FULL SCREEN. ENJOY!
You can also enjoy the introduction to Bach’s Magnificat on YouTube. 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 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 room opposite my chair where I pray and write.
Advent Day 10 ~ The Feast of St. Nicholas December 6th (the man and the legend)
Advent Day 10 ~ St. Nicholas’ Feast Day ~ December 6th, 2022
Here’s the true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. The saint’s name Nicholas is of Greek origin and means “victor of people.” 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. He’s sometimes referred to as the “boy bishop” because he was consecrated Bishop of Myra at the tender age of 30.
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, the First Ecumenical Council of the Church, in A.D.325. The Council of Nicaea formulated the Nicene Creed which outlines basic Christian belief that the Son is “consubstantial” (of one substance)with) the Father — the Creed we pray at Sunday Mass to this day.
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.
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.
The sometimes till used symbol of three gold balls at a pawn brokers’ shops echo this compassionate act. Surprisingly, St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of pawnbrokers.
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.
The inspiration of St. Nicholas led French nuns during the Middle Ages to start the tradition of bringing anonymous gifts under the cover of night to needy families and their children on Dec. 5th, St. Nicholas Eve. The next morning, the feast of St. Nicholas, the poor families would wake to discover food, clothing, food treats and some modest money assistance.
When the poor tried to find out who their benefactor was, they got the answer, “It must have been St. Nicholas.”
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!
Candy canes have been a staple in America and are associated Santa Claus. Why? They really derive from the crozier, the bishop’s staff.
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 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.
Wait for the Lord to lead,
Wait for the Lord to lead,
then follow his way.
(Liturgy of the Hours.)
Advent Day 9 ~ Where are you going? Do ya know?
Advent Day 9 ~ Monday, December 5, 2022
“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 St. Augustine and Jacksonville one misty December Sunday morning about 2 AM. I was living in St. Augustine at the time (2006).
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 off 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 yesterday’s (Sunday’s) gospel:
“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 I sometimes think 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.
Are we getting rid of the roadblocks that stop us from making progress. Our addictions. Our resentments. Our selfishness?
If we don’t make an effort to do that, our Christmas will be hollow, empty, Lord.
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 can help us ponder that question.
I realized that was a special moment for me; a moment I seized.
Or rather seized me.
Thank you, Lord.
On Monday morning many commuters would return to their frenzied ~ furied ~ hurried ~ harried ~unaware ~ unreflected lives going to and fro and not knowing really where they’re going or what they were doing or why.
Time for You to change, dear friend? Time for a change?
Now before you go, here’s another video from Godspell: Where are You Going? Be sure to turn up your speakers and enter full screen. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings, if you’d like to reflect on them. (The First reading from Isaiah is a wonderful piece of prose; try reading it aloud.) Click here.
Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas. We’ll explore the real St. Nicholas–the man and the legend.