Some The American Conservative readers may have read other articles that I wrote about my plans to take RCIA courses in order to be baptized in the Catholic Church and confirmed. My entire life I have been a Christian. I have a solid understanding of scripture thanks to my Christian education, which began at the age three. The best thing about the Catholic Church is the opportunity to re-learn the word with others who have never opened the Word of God before they felt the need to go to a Catholic parish to seek answers to a question or pray.
It is allowing me to retrace the steps of my faith as a young man, revisiting things that I believed I had moved beyond and accepted for truth. His Truth, which transcends and precedes all of us, hasn’t changed. God is the same yesterday and tomorrow. As a young man, My Lord called me to the Church, and I was able to return to my first principles. With His guidance, I’m rediscovering the deeper beauty of His Truth. This discovery was largely based on learning about the lives and times of saints.
Today is Saint Nicholas’s feast day. Yes, that is the other St. Nicholas. He was the inspiration for the red suit, cheeks, twinkling eyed, and a stomach like a bowl of jelly.
Around 280 A.D., the real St. Nicholas was born in Myra to a wealthy family. It is a seaport in Lycea in Asia Minor. Although details of his life are not known, due to the fact that few records survive the Roman persecution and the many legends surrounding him, it is believed that St. Nicholas was an orphan as a child and that he became Bishop of Myra when he was young. His holiness was so evident to the Christians he served, that upon his death in 342 the people immediately recognized him as a saint–similar in many ways to Mother Teresa. The Church made every effort to preserve and protect his remains.
Many wonderful stories about St. Nicholas have been handed down by tradition. One of the most popular stories about St. Nicholas comes from the Council of Nicea. Arius, a heretic, had suggested that Jesus wasn’t divine at the time. Arius brought this argument to the Nicean Council. St. Nicholas became so angry with Arius, he punched him in the face. The story goes that he was censured for striking Arius but then reinstated.
Another story concerns his efforts to help a man and his three daughters who were about to get married. The man was so poor that he didn’t have enough money to buy a dowry for his daughters. They would either go hungry or become prostitutes. St. Nicholas took some money and put it in the house of the family to help the father afford a dowry. The act was repeated when his second daughter was born. The father wanted to capture St. Nicholas in the act of thanks, so he went after him. Nicholas was caught by his father, who tried to flee. Nicholas made sure that the father kept the secret. Evidently, word got out. You now know why another St. Nicholas goes down the chimney at night to leave gifts.
Both in Church tradition as well as popular culture, St. Nicholas is associated with charity. St. Nicholas did more than just give money to charity. He also gave it to causes that supported justice.
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Even for secular people, Thanksgiving and Christmas are a time of giving. They give money to all kinds of faddish causes and then congratulate themselves for having done something. You can walk all around Washington and find nonprofit offices with any cause you could imagine. While many do great work, some use charity to hide their ineptitude.
In his 1908 book Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton stated that the modern world was full of “wild and wasted virtues…The modern world is full old Christian virtues gone mad.” Because they are alone and have become isolated from one another, the virtues have gone mad. Scientists care about truth, but their truth is pitiless. So, some humanitarians are only interested in pity. Their pity is (I’m sorry to say it) often not truthful.
Don’t just give this Christmas season. Giving like St. Nicholas is a way to give back. Give with a purpose and a focus on the Lord who has given you everything you will ever need.