A Reflection on Saint Nicholas
By Dr. Herbert Fain, Houston Graduate School of Theology Professor of Legal and Social Ethics
Adam C. English writes in The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus that there is historical evidence supporting Saint Nicholas’s existence. In Myra, there is a Saint Nicholas tomb and a church at the port, which was constructed for his congregation in the early 300s. He is remembered because he lived “a life of faith, to be sure, but it was also one of adventure and honor, justice and charity, goodwill and thick resolve.” In The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas, William J. Bennett writes that a tragic plague in Nicholas’s hometown of Lycia transformed his life forever. Although entire families were wiped out, Nicholas survived despite the untimely death of his parents.
In times of struggle and despair, God calls us to seek him as a refuge for all our troubles. For those reasons, Saint Nicholas prayed to God for strength and healing. While living in a monastery with his uncle, Nicholas decided that it was his purpose to begin his training to become a priest. As a manifestation of his religious commitment and trust in the Lord, Nicholas relinquished all of his possessions and inheritance. Once Nicholas heard that a family in Patra was experiencing misfortune and the father could get no work, the caring spirit of Nicholas compelled him to help. He remembered the scripture of Matthew 6:3-4—“giving will be in secret.” In other words, do not be boastful about assisting those in need. Instead, give all the Glory to God. Consequently, in a quiet manner, Nicholas approached the house of this poor family at night.
Bennet writes that, as the family slept, Nicholas dropped a bag of gold through an open window. In the morning, the family found the gold. They thanked the Lord, lived on the money for a while, and used it for a dowry for their firstborn daughter. Once Nicholas realized the joy that he brought to the family, he decided to give them more gold for the second daughter’s dowry. After the two eldest daughters were married, the father hoped that the family would be bestowed with another miracle for the third daughter’s dowry. For a series of nights, the father waited up hoping to discover the identity of this earthly angel.
Finally, one night, a third bag of gold was tossed into the window. The father ran out of the house hoping to discover the identity of this anonymous giver. The father caught up to Nicholas, fell upon his knees, and thanked him profusely. Nicholas was quick to tell the father to stand up and give all thanks to the Lord. Despite Nicholas’s request for anonymity, Bennet says that “Nicholas’s act of generosity set him on the path to becoming the world’s most famous giver.” Due to his spirit of cheerful giving, Saint Nicholas was forever known for his good deeds.
Christmas is over, and a new year has begun. What a wonderful time to focus on the legacy of Saint Nicholas to learn more about generosity in giving and good deeds throughout the coming year.