Saint Nicholas Between East and West
The Church in East and West commemorates today Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. The very first journey of Pope Benedict XVI as Supreme Pontiff in May 2005 was to the southern Italian port city of Bari, home to the relics of Saint Nicholas. At the time, few American Catholics realized the profound significance of that gesture. Orthodox Christians, however, were sensitive and attentive to the presence of the Pope in a city that John Paul II had called “a bridge to the East.”
Saint Nicholas at the Altar
To my mind, the most important thing to remember about Saint Nicholas is the spirit of godly fear and adoration with which he stood before the Holy Altar at the moment of the Divine Liturgy. Everything else in his life — including the countless miracles attributed to him — flowed from the Holy Mysteries. The Divine Liturgy served by Saint Nicholas must have been like the Mass of Padre Pio. While the holy gifts were being carried in procession to the altar, the people sang of Our Lord’s Eucharistic advent among them: “We who mystically represent the Cherubim, who sing to the life-giving Trinity the thrice holy hymn, let us now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all who comes escorted invisibly by Angelic hosts. alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”
The Saints in Advent
Saint Nicholas and the other saints of Advent surround the Eucharistic Advent of the Lord just as they will surround Him with the angels in the glory of His Advent at the end of time. How important it is to acknowledge the saints of Advent, to seek their intercession, to rejoice in their lives. Those who would banish the saints from the celebration of the Advent liturgy are misled and mistaken. The mission of the saints of Advent is to prepare us for the coming of Christ: for His final advent as King and Judge, yes, but also for His humble daily advent hidden under the species of bread and wine. In no way do the saints detract from the intensity of the Advent season. Each of them is given us as a companion and intercessor, charged with making ready our hearts for the advent of the Bridegroom-King.
Saint Nicholas in New Amsterdam
Saint Nicholas arrived in America with the Protestant Dutch settlers in 1624 in what was then called New Amsterdam. As much as the gloomy Protestant Reformation in Holland tried to suppress the cult of the Saints, the Dutch would not give up their beloved Saint Nicholas. Dutch customs, expressions, and even language persisted in New York right into the opening years of the last century, but by that time others had come through Ellis Island, New York’s port of entry — Italians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Greeks. They came bringing icons of Saint Nicholas lovingly wrapped in the trunks that contained all their worldly possessions. They came bringing prayers to Saint Nicholas learned as little children, and armed with a confidence in the intercession of Saint Nicholas that withstood poverty, prejudice, hunger, sickness, and all the vicissitudes of a new life in a strange land.
Saint Nicholas the Glorious Patron and Wonderworker
Saint Nicholas has always had enormous appeal. He is recognized as the patron saint of more causes than of any other saint, of classes of people, cities, churches, and whole nations. He is the patron saint of thieves — not because he helps them to steal — but because he helps them to repent and change; of pawnbrokers and bankers because he knew how to use gold in the service of compassion and charity; of pharmacists, fisherman, lawsuits lost unjustly and the lawyers who lost them, prisoners, orphans, prostitutes, unmarried men, scholars, haberdashers, and bishops. He is best known as the patron saint of children, especially children who are threatened by the circumstances of a troubled family life, or by abuse.
Saint Nicholas and Priests
I like to think of Saint Nicholas also as a patron and friend of priests. More than ever before it is crucial that priests place themselves under the protection of the saints and live in their friendship. Saint Nicholas has much to teach priests: passionate devotion to Christ true God and true Man; compassion for the poor; and the courage to defend children from all dangers of body and soul. Pray to Saint Nicholas today for all priests, but especially for those who have grown fainthearted and weary, and for those attacked by the noonday devil.
Saint Nicholas and the Eucharistic Advent of Christ
Saint Nicholas is present to us today. He will accompany me to the altar, taking his place there among the other saints and angels invisibly present in every Holy Mass. More than anything else, I would ask Saint Nicholas to open the eyes of our souls to the Eucharistic advent of Christ. If we are prepared for Christ’s coming in the Holy Mysteries, we will be prepared for His final coming in glory. One who lives from one Holy Mass to the next need not fear the Day of the Lord. Glorious Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker, pray for us that we may be made worthy of the advent of Christ.