Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St Nicholas, Bishop and Confessor/Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11 / Matthew 18:12-14

Although his popularity is not what it once was, St Nicholas the Wonderworker is still celebrated today across the world. The hallmark of this observance in much of the world is the delight of children, finding treats left by this generous saint in their shoes or stockings. The hallmark as well of his legends is the championing of children and of the poor. Best known, of course, is the legend in which Nicholas came to the aid of three young women, saving them from poverty by dropping, anonymously, three bags of gold into their window or chimney, which bags, in later versions, fell into stockings the girls had had hung up to dry. In another legend, less well known today, the wonderworking saint raised to life and made whole three young boys who had been slain, dismembered, and pickled by a wicked innkeeper.

It might be tempting to dismiss these latter stories as so much fancy, but the sad and tragic fact is that brutal, even demonic exploitation of poor women and children was all too real in Nicholas' day, and indeed it is all too real today. It has been estimated that some seven hundred thousand to two million people are trafficked every year across international borders for prostitution and what amounts to slave labor in gravely dehumanizing contexts. Some one million children every year are forced to enter into the sex trade. What is more, this is not an isolated phenomenon. It is believed that nearly every country in the world is marred by the wicked practice of human trafficking.

So, when Jesus tells us that it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost, we cannot afford to sentimentalize. This is not merely a sweetly pious thought. Rather it is a call to action, a summons to be a champion of the poor, the exploited, and especially of children, as was St Nicholas. After all, the girls in the famous legend were threatened not merely with poverty, but in the absence of a dowry, we at risk to being sold into prostitution. The boys of the other legend were, like far too many children, lured in by false promises of food and care when they were themselves poor and hungry in a time of famine.

We, however, might feel helpless in the face of this kind of evil, ill equipped for combatting such darkness. Yet, the truth is that we are well endowed to respond. First of all we have our knowledge that the evil exists, and the power to make it known to others. Second, we have the consecration of our lives to God, some by formal vows, all of us by our being conformed to Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. Most of all, we have the inexhaustible pleading of our Savior in the Eucharist, available to us in the celebration of the Mass, in the reception of Holy Communion, and in our fervent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.

In the face of this evil, then, we have no need to fear. With confidence in the saving power of Jesus Christ, let us seek out those who are lost, that God may gather them in his arms, carry them in his bosom, and lead them with care.

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