Who Was St. Nicholas? The History and Pious Catholic Legend of a Great Saint

clock December 6, 2012 14:27 by author John |

St. NicholasSt. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints in the Catholic Church and his feast day is December 6th. Traditionally, Catholics leave their shoes out on the eve of his feast day and find treats in them the next morning in the same manner as we look forward to Christmas presents from this Saint on Christmas morning.

Nicholas was born in the city of Patara in Lyrica, a port on the Mediterranean Sea in Asia Minor, about the middle of the third century. He was of Greek heritage and his parents, Epiphanius and Johanna (also known as Theophanes and Nonna) were devout Christians and wealthy. Nicholas was deeply attached to his faith as a child, only eating a single small portion in the evenings on Wednesdays and Fridays, which were days of penance at the time. His parents died from an epidemic while he was still young, so he went to live with an uncle, who was a bishop and also named Nicholas. His uncle raised him in the faith and later ordained him as a priest. Later, when the bishop of his district died, he was made Bishop of Myra. Nicholas became renowned for his extraordinary piety and zeal and performed many great miracles.

Nicholas was known for his generosity and his love for children. He gave freely of his wealth to the poor, widows, and orphans. He famously helped a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. Without a dowry, they would remain unmarried and probably would have to become prostitutes. Nicholas heard about this tragic situation and decided to help him, but through his modesty as well as discretion for the man’s situation, he went to his house at night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house. In some versions of the story, Nicholas does this on three separate occasions, and the man becomes curious after the first two occasions about the identity of the benefactor and tries to watch Nicholas in the act of giving the third time. Supposedly, Nicholas learned of the poor man's plan and dropped the third bag down the chimney instead. One version claims that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Popularization of this story led to the tradition of giving gifts on St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th. Variations in saying his name resulted in the popular name, Santa Claus.

A great famine struck Myra in 311 and a ship was anchored at the port loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople. Nicholas asked the crew to unload a part of the wheat to help the people through the famine. The crew at first objected to the request, because the wheat had to be weighed before being delivered to the Emperor. Nicholas assured them that they would arrive at their destination with the full load and the sailors agreed to give Nicholas the portion. When they arrived later in the capital, they found just what Nicholas had promised: the weight of the load had not changed, even though the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years and could even be used for sowing.

According to Greek historians, he imprisoned and tortured for his faith and made a glorious confession near the end of the great persecution ordered by the emperor, Diocletian. When the Christian Emperor Constantine assumed the throne, the captives, including Nicholas were released.

St. Methodius writes in his biography of Nicholas that "thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison”. He is also claimed to have been present at the Council of Nicaea and there condemned Arianism. Some accounts state that he went so far as to slap Arius in the face. These accounts are disputed in some cases.

Another story of St. Nicholas is also very famous. The governor Eustathius had taken a bribe to three innocent men to death. On the day of their execution, Nicholas went to them and stayed the hands of the executioner, and they were released. Then he turned to Eustathius and rebuked him until he admitted his guilt and sorrow for his actions. Three officers were present to witness this while they were on their way to duty in Phrygia. Later, when they were in Constantinople, the prefect Ablavius became jealous with them and ordered them imprisoned on false charges and an order for their death was obtained from the Emperor Constantine. The officers remembered the incident they witnessed and they prayed to God that they would be saved through Nicholas. That night St. Nicholas appeared in a dream to Constantine, and told him with threats to release the three innocent men, and Ablavius experienced the same thing. In the morning the Emperor and the prefect told each other of their dreams. The emperor asked the three men about the dream and when they had confirmed that they asked for the help of Nicholas, who had appeared to him, Constantine set them free and sent them to Nicholas with a letter asking him not to threaten him anymore but to pray for the peace of the world. This was for a very long time, the most famous miracle of St. Nicholas, and at the time of St. Methodius was the only thing generally known about him.

He died at Myra, and was buried in his cathedral, though some of his relics were later taken during the crusades either by thieves or pious Christians trying to preserve them and brought to Venice.  His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari, and also in Venice’s Lido.  An oily substance, called the “Manna di S. Nicola”, which smells of roses and is known for its healing powers, is said to flow from the relics in Bari. Scientific study has confirmed that the relics in Venice and Bari came from the same person.



St. Leonard of Port Maurice – Powerful Preacher and Missionary

clock November 26, 2012 12:22 by author John |

St. Leonard of Port MauriceNovember 26 is the feast of St. Leonard of Port Maurice. He was a preacher and ascetic writer, born on December 20, 1676, at Porto Maurizio, in present day Italy. He was the son of Domenico Casanova and Anna Maria Benza. He joined the Jesuits in Rome. On October 2, 1697, he received the habit, and after making his novitiate at Ponticelli in the Sabine mountains, he completed his studies at the principal house of the Riformella, S. Bonaventura on the Palatine at Rome. After his ordination he remained there as a professor, and expected to be sent as a missionary to China, but in 1704, he became so ill that he was sent to his native area of Porto Maurizio, where there was a monastery of the Franciscan Observants. After four years he regained his health, and began to preach in Porto Maurizio and the vicinity. Leonard later began to give missions to the people in Tuscany, which were marked by many extraordinary conversions and great results. His colleagues and he always practiced the greatest austerities and most severe penances during these missions. In 1710 he founded the monastery of Icontro, on a peak in the mountains about four miles from Florence, where he and his assistants could retire from time to time after missions, and devote themselves to spiritual renewal and fresh austerities.

In 1720 he began preaching in Central and Southern Italy, and his missions were received with much enthusiasm and produced many great fruits. Pope Benedict XIV called him to Rome and held him in high esteem. Everywhere Leonard went, he made produced many conversions, being forced to preach in the open, as the churches could not contain the crowds who came to listen.

He founded many pious societies and confraternities, and was particularly devoted to the Stations of the Cross, promoting it frequently. He promoted the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the perpetual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and devotion to the Immaculate Conception. He wanted to see the Immaculate Conception defined as a dogma of faith by the Holy See. He erected nearly 600 stations throughout Italy, including the one at the Coliseum in Rome.

In November, 1751, while preaching in Bologna, Benedict XIV called him to Rome, as already there were indications of his rapidly approaching end. The strain of his missionary labors and his corporal mortifications had completely exhausted his body. He arrived on the evening of November 26, 1751, at the monastery of St. Bonaventura on the Palatine in Rome, and died on the same night at eleven o'clock at the age of seventy-five. His body is partly incorrupt. Pius VI pronounced his beatification on 19 June, 1796, and Pius IX his canonization on 29 June, 1867. His feast day is celebrated on November 26.

The numerous writings of St. Leonard of Port Maurice include many sermons, letters, ascetic treatises, and books of devotion for the use of the faithful and of priests, especially missionaries. Many of his writings have been translated into many languages and republished: including his "Via Sacrea spianata ed illuminata" (the Way of the Cross simplified and explained), "Il Tesoro Nascosto" (on the Holy Mass); his celebrated "Proponimenti", or resolutions for the attainment of higher Christian perfection. One of his most famous sermons, “The Little Number of Those Who Are Saved” is a powerful reflection on the great numbers of people that fall into Hell and the reason they do so – their own sinfulness. These are some of his words from this eye-openning homily:

God did not create anyone to damn him; but whoever is damned, is damned because he wants to be.

Ungrateful sinner, learn today that if you are damned, it is not God who is to blame, but you and your self-will.

I am speaking to you who live in the habit of mortal sin..., and who are getting closer to hell each day. Stop, and turn around.

I ask You not for wealth, honor or prosperity; I ask you for one thing only, to save my soul.

Weep over past sins, make a good confession, sin no more in the future, and you will all be saved.

 



What is All Saints Day (The Catholic Meaning)

clock November 1, 2012 11:02 by author John |

All Saints DayAll Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation

The Feast of All Saints (All Saints Day) is a holy day of obligation for Catholics in most countries. In the United States, the feast is abrogated (moved to Sunday) if it falls on a Saturday or Monday. If it falls on any other day of the week, attendance at mass is required unless a serious reason exists preventing the person from attending (such as illness).

All Saints Day honors all saints known and unknown. It is a feast for remembering all the holy men and women who have attained the reward of Heaven. While the Catholic Church recognizes thousands of saints officially, there are undoubtedly many more saints who are in Heaven, enjoying the beatific vision, but who are not known to be in Heaven. While many saints have their own feast days, the feast of All Saints gives the due honor to all the saints who have done so much good in their lives for Christ and His Church.

Our Connection with the Saints

There is a special connection between the souls in purgatory (the “Church Suffering”), those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), and the faithful who are still living in the world (the “Church militant”). The mutual prayers of the Church Triumphant, Suffering, and Militant are a channel of many graces for the Church, both living and suffering. We build each other up, praying for one another so that one day we may all enjoy the reward of Heaven.

History of the Feast of All Saints

The Christians in the early years of the Church would celebrate the anniversary of a martyr’s death by observing an all-night vigil, and then celebrating mass over their tomb or the shrine at their place of martyrdom. In the 300s, Christians began to share in the celebration of martyrs from neighboring areas. During the great persecutions, so many martyrs arose that they could not each be given their own feast day. A common feast day was appointed for all martyrs, which was celebrated as early as the year 270. The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to the year 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs; the feast of the dedicatio Sanctae Mariae ad Martyres has been celebrated in Rome ever since.

The feast of All Saints, on its current date, began with the dedication by Pope Gregory III (731–741) of an oratory in St. Peter's for the relics "of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world", with the day moved to 1 November and the 13 May feast suppressed. It was made a holy day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious, issued "at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all the bishops", which confirmed its celebration on 1 November. The octave was added by Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484).

 

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