Posted by: fvbcdm | December 6, 2011

Feast of Saint Nicholas (6 Dec 2011)

 What to my wondering eyes should appear  but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, with a little old driver so lively and quick  that I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick!

That Saint Nick who figures so prominently in the poem “Twas the Night before  Christmas. . .” is the bishop of the early Church whom we celebrate today in the sacred liturgy.  He lived and ministered in Mira on the southern coast of what was called Asia Minor and is now called Turkey.  That area used to be Christian; it is now almost entirely Muslim although the nation of Turkey is secular rather than officially Muslim.  In later centuries, the remains of Saint Nicholas were brought to the Italian city of Bari on the Adriatic coast where they are venerated today.  Thus we speak of the famous early bishop as Saint Nicholas of Mira or Saint Nicholas of Bari.  And by means of old folk tales, Saint Nicholas migrated in popular literature from Turkey and then Italy to Germany and then Holland.  The Dutch form of the words “Saint Nicholas” are “Sint Niklaas,” which comes to us in our country as “Santa Claus.”  And today in the Netherlands the children get up early to look outside their front door to see what Sint Niklaas has left in their shoes which they left there the night before.  Candy, fruit, small toys and other goodies are the reward for the children who have been good throughout the year.  

 When I was in third grade, I learned an important lesson in humility, since humility is often produced by humiliations.  Our class had been assigned to memorize the poem “Twas the Night before Christmas,” and I happened to be the first child to learn it all by heart.  My teacher rewarded me by sending me down to the second grade classroom to recite it to those children.  I was very proud, of course, and delighted to be able to “show off” in that way.  I stood in front of the second graders and began my recitation.  And then, tragedy struck: I got stuck in the middle of the poem and couldn’t remember the lines that followed!  It was terrible; I stood there horribly aware that the second grade teacher and her pupils all had their eyes fixed on me, and some of the crueler ones began to giggle and snicker.  The kindly teacher said to me, “Have you forgotten the next line? Well go back to your class and learn it, and then come tomorrow and you can finish it for us.”  I did, but with immense embarrassment and shame. My hour of glory had turned into a disaster!  I can still enjoy the poem as an adult, but never without remembering that lesson I learned in third grade—a lesson possibly taught to me by an ancient bishop who saw that I needed some of the virtue of humility.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.


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