LEARNING FROM ST NICHOLAS
LEARNING FROM SAINT NICHOLAS
Fr Luke Veronis
St. Nicholas, like all saints, stood up for the truth of God. Nicholas lived through the persecutions of Diocletian, one of the last Roman emperors who persecuted Christians in the 4th century. Under the threat of imprisonment and even possible death, Nicholas continued to preach the love of God and proclaim His truth. And he suffered for it. The Romans imprisoned him and threatened his life, yet he wouldn’t deny the truth, nor waver in his strict stance for the standards of the Gospel. This same zeal for the truth came out during the First Ecumenical Council, when Nicholas the bishop defended the fullness of our faith – that Jesus was fully God and one with the Father - against various false teachings that were very popular during his day.
His courage and boldness to live out a Christ-like life, and incarnate the truth, even when the surrounding society ridiculed and even threatened such a lifestyle, is something with which we contemporary Christians must learn. Christianity, as an authentic way of life, is not for the fainthearted. Christianity was never meant to be a ‘status-quo,’ comfortable, easy religion of the masses. Christ called his followers to a life of divine love, which automatically implies a life of sacrifice and humble service to others. This is why Jesus reminded us that few people will have the courage and commitment to walk that narrow path!
And here lies a second quality that stands out from the life of St. Nicholas. Not only as a bishop and a good shepherd of the Church, but simply as a Christian, Nicholas needed to fight against the temptation of self-centeredness – an illness of our fallen nature that plagues each of us – and he did this by constantly looking for ways to reach out to others, especially helping the oppressed, defenseless and marginalized people of society. Bishop Nicholas was not a leader who reveled in power and authority, but he understood himself as a disciple of the One who washed His disciples’ feet and who constantly cared for the poor. Being a Christian is all about serving others, thus Christian leadership must be servant leadership - always placing the needs of others before ourselves!
We have many stories of Nicholas reaching out in compassion and kindness to the orphaned, to the estranged, to the prisoners, and especially to the defenseless. As I try to repeat in many of my sermons, sincere Christianity points to “the other,” to those outside of ourselves. Love of God means love of our neighbor, and love of the other. We as Christians, and the Church as the Body of Christ, must always have our central attention on charity, outreach and mission – bringing God’s love to others!
The world outside can be an isolated, lonely, often harsh, and an even mean place to live. How bright our light will shine if we radiate Christ’s unconditional compassion, kindness, love and charity, as St. Nicholas did throughout his lifetime.
A third virtue we must life up from St. Nicholas’ life is his generosity. Bishop Nicholas suffered the life of an orphan, having lost both his parents in his teenage years. Yet from the moment that Nicholas received a rich inheritance, he understood good Christian Stewardship, and generously distributed his wealth to those in need. He did not seek to use his wealth for his own well-being and comfort, but realized that his wealth represented a test and temptation, and thus used it to enrich others!
When Christ’s Spirit fills the heart of a disciple, we joyously want to imitate our Lord’s example by giving all that we have to help others. True joy comes through giving. True meaning in life comes from helping and serving others. And the generosity of our giving reflects the maturity of our faith!
A final aspect that St. Nicholas so beautifully exemplified in his giving was the spirit of anonymity. He gave generously, but never for fame or for praise. He simply gave because he understood how generous God was to him first. Everything he had was God’s, and he didn’t want to take credit for anything he gave away. How much can we all learn from that, in this day and age – to give in a secret manner, all for the glory of God!
A courageous and bold defender of the truth, a compassionate and loving helper of the defenseless and needy, and a generous and humble steward of God’s gifts – these represent some of the many virtues of the true Santa Claus, St. Nicholas.
Throughout this Advent season of Christmas, when we see and hear many references to a fat, jolly old man in the red suit, and even as we read books or tell stories to our children and grandchildren about Santa Claus, let us never lose sight of the true Santa Claus – Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. And let us try to live out and then teach our children and grandchildren about the Christ-like virtues that made Nicholas one of the world’s most beloved patrons and saints!
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