Summary: Let’s take this story as a challenge to become more compassionate to the destitute, and provide for their education, food and shelter so they may grow spiritually, physically and emotionally in Christ.
Thursday of the First Week of Advent 2018
Beginning any new liturgical season, we try to shake off our slumber and be more present to the Lord whom we worship. We know that we must change so that we can become more like Jesus and Mary, and so we listen to the Word of God with particular attention. What we hear today ought to be a little disturbing to anyone who considers himself pious. We hear Jesus Himself in a gentle rebuke of those who worship Him as Lord. He is telling us that just saying “Lord, Lord” as we do in every penitential rite is not the way to the kingdom of God. No, what is essential is doing the will of the Father, as we pray every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
So we must hear the Word of God and then make them real in our lives, by loving God above all things and loving our neighbor as ourselves. If we don’t, then everything we build will be washed away in the first flood, or burned up in the first fire, or shaken apart in the first earthquake. Our spiritual growth will be phony, and will not last.
Isaiah gives a little more meaning to these words of Christ by telling us that what God lays low, those things we have done that don’t endure, are trampled by the feet of the poor. In other words, God gives to the poor one way or another. We can give to them from our surplus, or they can glean it from the remnants of God’s harvest, when His justice lays low the arrogance of the selfish. Time after time we can see this kind of reality in the historical record. God prefers, however, to activate our own compassion so that we who have more than we need will give to those who have little or nothing. God made Himself poor in the Incarnation so that we could become rich in spiritual goods, in our community of faith. So we are challenged to make ourselves poorer in material goods so that the destitute could become, not rich, but poor as we are poor, and rich as we will be rich in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
This is not a call for socialism or communism, but for sharing with the impoverished in the spirit of the Gospels. What we do for others must not be forced, not coerced. We give freely as St. Paul taught, using the words of Jesus, “It is better to give than to receive.”
Our saint today is well known for acting out in His life that process. “Nicholas 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.”
One of the St. Nicholas stories that has come down to us illustrates this care for the impoverished: A man had three daughters. He was too poor to provide dowries for his girls to be married, so they would have 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.”
Rather than looking at this as the beginning of a stocking custom, let’s take it as a challenge to become more compassionate to the destitute, and provide for their education, food and shelter so they may grow spiritually, physically and emotionally in Christ. St. Nicholas, pray for us.