Saturday, December 6, 2008


“St. Nicholas”
by Tintoretto, c. 1540 


Biographical Information about St. Nicholas[1]

Readings for the Feast of St. Nicholas

Readings and Commentary:


 Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year King Uzziah died,
I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces,
with two they veiled their feet,
and with two they hovered aloft.
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts!" they cried, one to the other.
"All the earth is filled with his glory!"
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke.
Then I said, "Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphim flew to me,
holding an ember which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
He touched my mouth with it and said,
"See, now that this has touched your lips,
your wickedness is removed, your sin purged."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said, "send me!"

Commentary on
Is 6:1-8

The Prophet Isaiah tells us the story of his call, “In the year King Uzziah died” (742 BC). The prophet first relates his belief that he will die, since it was the common belief that one who had not been purified could not see the face of God and live. This selection from Isaiah (an introduction to the “Book of Emmanuel”) describes the prophet’s first vision of his encounter with God. It is set in the Temple in Jerusalem, probably on a high holy day. The six winged “Seraphim” (literally “the burning ones”) are images common in art of the ancient Near East, and represent angelic messengers. “Each has six wings. Reverence for the divine majesty causes them to veil their faces with two wings; modesty, to veil their extremities in similar fashion; alacrity in God's service, to extend two wings in preparation for flight.”[3] One of these seraphim flew to him with a coal from the fire at the altar (there would have been a fire for burning the holocaust – a sacrificial offering completely burnt as opposed to simply slaughtered).

With that coal, the seraphim touched Isaiah’s lips in symbolic cleansing, making the prophet worthy to proclaim God’s word. The Church remembers this event with the Priest’s blessing of himself or the Deacon with the words: “May the Lord open my (your) lips that I (you) may worthily proclaim the Holy Gospel.”

The reference to God in the prefix, Holy, holy, holy, describes the Father as perfect and omnipotent. (Note: in ancient Hebrew, there were no words "Holier" or "Holiest." In order to express that thought, it was necessary to repeat the phrase three times to express the ultimate state of perfection. This literary form is carried into the Roman Rite liturgy today.) We hear the prophet lament that he is “doomed,” since it was believed that such an encounter with God would be fatal (Genesis 32:31; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).

CCC: Is 6:1 1137; Is 6:2-3 1138; Is 6:3 2809; Is 6:5 208, 2584; Is 6:6 332; Is 6:8 2584
Psalm 40:2 and 4, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11

R. (8a and 9a) Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

I have waited, waited for the LORD,
and he stooped toward me and heard my cry.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.

R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, "Behold I come."

R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

"In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!"

R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips,
as you, O LORD, know.

R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will. 

Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness
and your truth in the vast assembly.

R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Commentary on
Ps 40:2 and 4, 7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11

Psalm 40 is a song of thanksgiving. Emphasis is placed on the call by God and response by the psalmist. Salvation is for those whose hearts and actions proclaim their faithfulness, not those who only offer sacrifice without atonement. The initial waiting is satisfied by favor shown by God to one who is faithful in service to Him. Praise and thanksgiving are given to God whose justice is applied to all.

CCC: Ps 40:2 2657; Ps 40:7-9 LXX 462; Ps 40:7 2824
Luke 10:1-9

The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom he sent ahead of him in pairs
to every town and place he intended to visit. He said to them,
"The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest
to send out laborers for his harvest.
Go on your way;
behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.
Into whatever house you enter,
first say, 'Peace to this household.'
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you,
for the laborer deserves his payment.
Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you,
eat what is set before you,
cure the sick in it and say to them,
`The Kingdom of God is at hand for you."'

Commentary on
Lk 10:1-9

It is only in the Gospel of St. Luke that we hear the story of Jesus sending the seventy (two). This event is supported by other non-biblical writings (see Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340) Church History, Book. 1). The instructions given to those sent out are very similar to the instructions given to the Twelve, as was the message they were sent to proclaim.

This selection emphasizes Jesus' early struggle to accomplish what he came to do by himself. We sense the humanness as he says: "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few."  We also find this event and statement in St. Matthew’s Gospel where instead of the 72 he names the 12 (Matthew 10:1-8). While in St. Matthew’s story Jesus sends them, first to the Hebrew people, St. Luke makes no such distinction.

This effort by Jesus was modeled on Moses’ leadership structure in which 70 elders were appointed (Numbers 11:24-25). It is also possible that the reference number 70 relates to the number of nations mentioned in Genesis 10. The disciples were sent two by two, a custom that would be replicated later in the post-resurrection missionary activities of the Church (see Acts 8:14; 15:39-40).

In another historical similarity, the disciples were sent without possessions, presumably depending upon the traditionally required hospitality for their support. Similar instructions were given by the Prophet Elisha as he sent his servant in 2 Kings 4:29.

The Lord’s instructions concerning this hospitality “…laborer deserves payment” is also quoted in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:18b) and has further support in 1 Corinthians 9:7, 14. Those who labor on behalf of the Gospel and cannot take time to support themselves deserve the support of the community. In a final twist, the Lord’s instruction to “…eat what is set before you” sets aside Mosaic dietary laws (also 1 Corinthians 10:27 and Acts 10:25). It is a clear indication that the scope of their mission is to call all peoples to the Gospel.

CCC: Lk 10:1-2 765; Lk 10:2 2611; Lk 10:7 2122

As we wait in anticipation of the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord this Advent season, we pause to consider how our celebration has been formed by St. Nicholas of Myra, the original St. Nicholas. It was his acts of mercy and charity, handed down through generations, that have evolved into the orgy of consumerism we see around us today. It is remarkable how simple acts of anonymous charity have transformed our society.

The stories are well known to the ardent Christian. The most famous of them is “A poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him but being too modest to help the man in public, (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.”

The example we must take from St. Nicholas is captured in the sacred scripture proclaimed on his feast day. First, from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (and echoed in Psalm 40) we hear that, like St. Nicholas, we are called to join the faithful in service of God’s mission to the world. This emphasis is strengthened as St. Luke’s Gospel recalls how Jesus sent out the seventy-two to spread the word of God’s love and the invitation to salvation.

On this feast, we especially remember the heroic virtue of the Bishop of Myra who expressed the love of Christ through acts of mercy and charity. During this Advent season, as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are galvanized to action in service of the poor in spirit and materially. Our generosity must be, as the psalmist tells us: “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me.” In other words, the generosity must be from our hearts not from our desire to make ourselves look beneficent to others.

On this day we pray from the Missal:

We humbly implore your mercy, Lord:

Protect us in all dangers
Through the Prayers of the Bishop Saint Nicholas, 
that the way of salvation may lie open before us.

[1] The picture used is “St. Nicholas” by Tintoretto, c. 1540 
[2] Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal © 1973, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved 
[3] See NAB footnote on Isaiah 6: 1-3

No comments: