Santa is no fool! Today we celebrate the memorial of St. Nicholas, who of course, is the basis for Santa Claus. St. Nicholas from near the town of Myra, in Asia Minor, and he became the archbishop of that area. We know that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but do know know why?
It’s not because he is Santa Claus, rather it is because he is the patron saint of children that influenced his becoming Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was known for his generosity. Many people have heard of the story of how St. Nicholas heard of a poor family who had three daughters for whom they did not have dowries. They were concerned about what would happen to the daughters if they could not marry they off. St. Nicholas, on three consecutive nights, threw a bag of money through an open window of the family’s home — each bag having enough money for a dowry for one of the daughters.
While that may be one of the reasons St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, there is another story about St. Nicholas which I think is equally important, and fits in well with today’s Gospel reading. In the Gospel, Jesus reminds us of the importance of building our house on a solid foundation. Now, I don’t think Jesus was giving construction advice. He was teaching us about our prayer life. We must have our spirituality built on the solid foundation of the Rock of Christ, the Church. Then, when the situations of our lives becomes difficult, we will have the strength of our prayer life.
Such a good foundation, ideally, begins in childhood. It did for St. Nicholas. There is a story about him that even as an infant he followed of custom of that time of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. It is said that when his mother tried to feed him on those days, the infant St. Nicholas would refuse the breast.
Fasting, or abstaining from certain foods, on certain days is an ancient practice in the Church. It is not to be done as a “diet” nor simply for our sins. It is to be done for our sins and the sins of our community. It is a sacrifice we make for the conversion of our society from following the ways of the world to following Christ Jesus.
It is rather appropriate to point of this story about St. Nicholas, because of what was discussed last month at the meeting of the bishops in the United States. Many of you remember, perhaps when you were children, that as Catholics we never ate meat on Fridays. Not just during Lent, as is the current practice, but all through the year. In the late 1960s, the Church decided to lift the abstaining from meat as the universal sacrifice and penitential practice for Fridays, but it reminded us that Fridays were still a day of penance, particularly for the sins of society. The Church said at that time, that the bishops of each country would better know what would be an appropriate communal penitential practice for Fridays throughout the year. The bishops in the United States, back in the late 1960s, said that since we are an affluent country, we would still abstain from meat on Fridays, but that a person could substitute some other penitential practice. Sadly, what this “freedom to choose” has resulted in most people not doing anything as a penitential practice on Fridays. Just think, what do you do on Fridays all through the year, as a penitential sacrifice?
Last month, our bishops took up this concern. Clearly, our society is in need of penitential sacrifices. The Culture of Death has taken a firm grasp in our society. Abortion, euthanasia, racial prejudice, sexism, materialism, greed are all rampant in our society. More and more people are saying that there is no God, and even among those who claim to believe, fewer and fewer of them are attending Church services. They have become practical atheists; ignorant of God and not following His divine plans.
Our bishops noted that the bishops in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland have decided to reinstitute meatless Fridays all through the year. They have said that we should do the same, so beginning in 2014, Catholics in the United States will be asked to abstain from meat every Friday, and to offer that up as a penance for the sins of our society and for its conversion to Christ Jesus.
St. Nicholas would be pleased. And we do not have to wait until 2014, we can start tomorrow.