Feast of St. Nicholas
by Br. Nicholas Ob. OSB (Bob Hill) on December 6, 2017
When I made my monastic promises in October 2016, I was received by the community under my choice of names, Brother Nicholas–and today is the feast of St. Nicholas (yes, that very same person for whom Santa Clause is modeled).
Meditating today, a certain irony struck me. In today’s reflection on the Rule of Benedict by Sister Joan Chitterster (ftnt 1) , an Erie, PA Benedictine, she pointed out the contradictions with which we all live.
The Season is one of “gift giving” (presents under the tree; candy or coins in shoes in Holland, and many more examples come to mind). These traditions are derived from the charitable works of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (Fourth Century), who gave away his wealth to the poor. Tradition has that he was “very well bred,” by pious and virtuous parents, who sent him to studying the sacred books at a monastery at the age of five.
His parents died while he was still young, leaving him with a comfortable fortune, which he resolved to use for works of charity. My reflections couldn’t help but wander to the present “tax reform” our nation has been subjected to, and pray, together with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, for Congress to fix fundamentally flawed tax policies and choose those approaches that help individuals and families struggling within our society (ftnt 2) . Their concern stems from such sources as Isaiah 1:17, “Learn to do good, search for justice, discipline the violent” and the Magnificat, Blessed Mary’s Song: “he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 1:52-53).
For St. Nicholas, one of many opportunities to use his riches came when a local citizen lost all his money and his three daughters could not find husbands because of their poverty. In despair, their father was about to commit them to a life of prostitution and shame. When Nicholas heard of this, he took a bag of gold and at night tossed it through an open window of the man’s house (an apocryphal sidebar reports that the coins landed in a stocking that was hanging by the fireplace to dry. Sound familiar?). Here was a dowry for the eldest girl, and she was quickly married…the same ensued for the other two.
This pious tale also points not only to the saint’s moral compass of generosity and charity, but to the patriarchal society in which he lived. While dissimilar in many ways to the 21st century, injustices based on gender are still legion. One only needs to turn on the nightly news to see it showcased. On the Feast of St. Nicholas, I am sadly reminded that woman cannot fully play a role in the spiritual life of the Church. There is some solace in the words of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, “Without woman there is no harmony.” — St. Scholastica, pray for us!
Reading Sr. Joan’s commentary on the Rule today, with the feast of St. Nicholas as the backdrop, I reflected on her assertion that possession of God is “far more satisfying than anything we could receive from family or friends, that it is freeing, that it is enriching far beyond what we could collect for ourselves.” She wrote, “We live in a culture that sees having things as the measure of our success. ‘Enoughness’ is a value long dead in Western society. Dependence on God is a value long lost…. ‘Enoughness’ and dependence on God may be what is lacking in a society where consumerism and accumulation have become the root diseases of a world in which everything is not enough, and nothing satisfies”—challenging words at this Season of the Year! But, from the perspective of Benedictine spirituality, her claim makes perfect sense. At the end of the Rule, St. Benedict says, “Let [us] prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life” (72:11-12).
So, on this Feast Day of St. Nicholas, I delight in the many gifts I have been given (material, physical, intangible, and spiritual), by God’s grace, especially my Oblation. And, most importantly, I pray that together with the community of Mount Saviour, we seek the One and only truly satisfying gift…the presence of God in all things.
On this Feast Day, I hope you receive, through the intercessions of Sts. Benedict and Nicholas, many blessings. May we have a deeply spiritual Advent and Christmastide.
+ In Love +
Bro. Nicholas, Ob. OSB
Ftnt 1. From her book, Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. Second Edition. Crossads Publ.