Homily for the Memorial of St. Nicholas
As we have already heard in our opening prayer for this morning, today we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas. On this day every year, I think about my favorite story of St. Nicholas.
Growing up, Nicholas was a very devout young man who lived with his uncle who just so happened to be a bishop in the area that makes up modern-day Turkey. He would eventually become a priest and later a bishop himself, probably because of the influence of his uncle. But while a bishop, Nicholas participated in the First Council of Nicaea, which would produce the creed that we pray every Sunday at Mass. This is where the story gets interesting.
At the Council, St. Nicholas got into a very heated debate with Arius about the two natures of Christ. Arius denied that Jesus remained fully God while on earth; Nicholas held true to the orthodox Christian belief that Christ was both fully human and fully divine. There came a point in the discussion when Nicholas had enough of what Arius was saying and he decided to punch Arius in the face. Because of that outburst, Nicholas was thrown in jail and removed from his office as a bishop.
Legend has it that while Nicholas was in jail, he was visited by Jesus and the Blessed Mother. Jesus asked him why he was there. Nicholas responded: “Because I love you, my Lord.” Then Jesus gave Nicholas a copy of the Gospels and the Blessed Mother his episcopal pallium, restoring him to the rank of Bishop.
That moment changed Nicholas’ life. And from then on, he not only continued to be an ardent defender of the faith, but he focused on being a shepherd for his people, caring for them in ways that showed them the love of Christ. He would often go around his diocese giving secret gifts to his people, which would become the model for Santa Claus.
Nicholas had experienced the love of God in a very profound way while he was in that jail cell. Jesus came and sought him out when he needed him the most. Jesus was that Good Shepherd to him in that moment. Because Nicholas had experienced that love, it led him to go out and show the love of God to others, to be that true shepherd for his people.
Just as Jesus did for Nicholas, He desires to do for us. Jesus seeks us out. He comes in search of us every single day. He wants to bring us to an encounter with His love. He wants to change our lives. Will we let him? Today the Lord wants to come to us in a powerful way in our reception of the Eucharist. Are we willing to allow Him into our hearts? Are we willing to allow Him to change us and make us instruments that brings that same love to the world?
Image: St. Nicholas of Bari Presents the Rovelli Students to Madonna and Child by Moretto da Brescia (1539)