Thursday, December 6, 2018


  Feast of Saint Nicholas
December 6
(reprinted again this year) 


Ever since St. Nicholas was bumped by Santa Claus, he has been going downhill fast. How did he sink so far?
Nicholas started off as a rich young man from Turkey who ended up a becoming a kindly bishop. Dressed in a red cope, mitre and crosier, he was known for his love of children and his determination to use his inheritance doing anonymous works of charity.

Probably “too Catholic,” 17th century Dutch Protestants helped turn him into a married ex-priest living at the North Pole. Instead of being a holy bishop presiding over a diocese, he ended up presiding over a gang of workaholic elves. Obviously, he married without being “laicized.” Why else would he have been banished to such a God-forsaken place as the North Pole? Since there are no churches at the north pole, Santa probably quit going to church a long time ago! Unlike Saint Nicholas, he is the "patron saint" of those who claim to be "spiritual, but not religious."

It must have been a traumatic career-change. He ended up with a serious eating disorder and a possible drinking problem that turned him into a rotund bag of cholesterol with a bad case of “rosacea.” 
Just when you thought he could not sink any lower, a couple of years ago he stared in a new “adult” movie with an R rating called “Bad Santa.” For those who think foul-mouthed drunks and vulgar rudeness are funny, this movie was a huge hit, followed by at least one sequel. The reviews use words like, “demented, twisted, gloriously rude, rancid, vulgar and unreasonably funny.”

So far, no one has raised any serious questions about his obsession with children, his enslaving of small animals to carry loads heavier than any UPS jet or his penchant for “breaking and entering” homes all over the world. Of course, there is always next year.

St. Nicholas, the compassionate bishop, is not the only one to lose at this time of year. Even Jesus is being nudged out by Santa Claus, elves, reindeer and kittens in Christmas stockings.

Instead of Jesus’ birth being central, Christmas has become a frenzy of buying: buying things they don’t need, for people they don’t like, with money they don’t have. Every year there are reports of a mob of shoppers, rushing like a herd of charging elephants for a sale, trampling people in line, knocking them unconscious. No wonder so many are left disappointed and in debt and the suicide rate spikes right after Christmas.

Before you dismiss me as a grinch, let me assure you that I love Christmas. My point is that it takes a lot of imagination and determination these days to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Since I am single and my life is so different than that of many people, I am reluctant to give practical suggestions, but here is one. Keep it simple. Do less, not more. Take a little of the time you saved and go on a one-hour retreat. Take a long walk by yourself, visit to an empty church or take a long soak in your hot tub and try to remember what Christmas is really all about.
For all intents and purposes, St. Nicholas has been taken out of Christmas! Don't let Christ be taken out of your Christmas!

If I could have chosen my own name, it would have been "Nicholas," but of course the name "Nick Knott" would have brought a lot of teasing down on my head as a child!
My Two Icons of Saint Nicholas

Painted by my friend Christopher Miller on a board from the basement of our Cathedral of the Assumption before the 1990s renovation.

A wood carved image of Saint Nicholas that I bought in Rome, just down the street from Saint Peter Basilica, while on a back-packing trip to Taize in the 1970s.

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