I usually speak without notes or a text, preferring the dynamism of the feedback that comes as I deliver a homily… when to keep it moving, when to hold a point, when to explain a bit more or a bit less as I work from ‘base-to-base’ in the plan I have when I step up every week. But for this Christmas, I felt it necessary to write out what I prepared, because it just couldn’t be delivered in the way I wanted to present it without a definite text. I number of people have asked for a transcription of that text. Indeed, that would be impossible as each time I gave it tonight (four times) there would be small edits or places of emphasis I would hit each different time I gave it, but these are, more-or-less, the notes I was reading from. They are highly imperfect. They are written in an idiom for being spoken, not to be read as an academic treatise, so beware the dangling participles and the casual pronounular references. These essential thoughts have been at the center of my prayer for the last several weeks after on Facebook (or somewhere) I saw a tongue-in-cheek theological/philosophical “formal proof” for why we should believe in Santa Claus because of his identity as St. Nicholas. As I said, I have been praying over these weeks and only set to paper this afternoon in the rush of getting it crystalized ‘just right’ as a letter and not just a ‘touch the bases’ homily which I usually do. God forgive the pride that might be perceived in publishing the text of a homily, in presuming that anyone will have use for this outside of the prayer that was being offered tonight, but if you can make sense of this, please join me in asking God’s mercy and blessings, through the intercession of Saint Nicholas, for all the trials we are facing in our parish and in the world this Christmas Day. -btd
Dear St. Nicholas,
You might remember me, my name is Tom. But now people call me Fr. Tom. Like you, I am a pastor of souls, and I come before God with the weight of that responsibility to night. I pray that through your intercession that you might hear my prayers and help me place them before God on this most Holy Night of nights. It has been nearly forty years since I last wrote your “American agent”… Santa Claus… and a lot has changed in my life over the last several decades, but it has taken a year like 2020 where, looking deeply in my heart, I recognize that I am in need of God’s grace now more than ever.
When I read about your saintly life, most excellent Nicholas, I am aware that your reputation of traveling and generosity precedes us by nearly 17 centuries, and that your generosity flows from the desire to outsmart Satan, who all too often takes advantage of the desperation of those who are poor and needy and hopeless in the world… you let them know that God’s love and providence is fulfilled in the riches that -we- share with others. You are revered as a Father of the Council of Nicea, whose creed we recite in the Lord’s Church to this day, reminding us that the Christ we worship is not simply another teacher or inspirational speaker, not simply a holy or blessed man with a supremely sacred mission, but one who was truly “God from God” and “Light from Light” and “True God from True God”. For you knew, as you know now among the heavenly host, that it was not enough for God to save the world from within its own strength and its own power and its own goodness, but that the Father needed to send One who just as Holy, Eternal, and Glorified as He is– His Only-Begotten Son, that his Son could be like us in all things but sin and we could become more like the him to be reckoned and recognized as God’s adopted true sons and true daughters.
I write you in hope, Saint Nicholas. I have never –not- believed in you, but my understanding of your role at Christmas has changed over the years. When I was little, Christmas was about wishes—of wishing that the Christmas tree would hold under her branches the colorful and noisy things to help a child to know the anxiousness of wanting and the child-like ecstasy having those wants fulfilled. But the last time I wrote, I was coming to some understanding that Christmas was more than wants and more than worldly desires. It is probably good that you didn’t deliver on that fancy computer system in 1984… or later on that automobile (even though I was very, very good that year), or even that grade in Organic Chemistry Lab that I certainly didn’t deserve (…you know what I am talking about!) But I learned through those things that wishes are one thing and the virtue of hope is quite another. When we make wishes, we are longing for things that will make us happy for a while… for things that will quench a longing for the good things of this world. But wishes cannot – make true / the impossible. Space and time and chemistry and life cannot take back regrets from the past. Wishes cannot raise the dead. Wishes should not contradict justice–in taking from another what rightfully belongs to them or taking for myself what I neither earned nor deserved–nor should they provide those things that would not have been good for me. Yes, I was a good boy, but I probably still deserved that D in freshman O-chem lab. Some say it might have helped change the course of my life, to bring me where I am today, but I trust that God’s providence was at work even before that. (However, maybe it was a divinely-inspired “D” that fulfills its purpose this year as a college student comes home and finds comfort that their pastor really does understand even that struggle? Hopefully they won’t be scared by the idea that God might have other things in store for them as he did for me—a priest.)
It is good to learn how to wish well and to believe in the goodness of this world. But when we grow up, we realize that wishes can only get us so far. I wonder if that is why, my dear Nicholas, so many people stop believing in you and your powers to intercede for us? Let me tell you that my journey from being a person of wishes to being a person of hope has been a tremendously fulfilling adventure in every way!
I know that you stand before the throne of the Almighty this very night and that you hear the prayers of the faithful and present them to the Lord, whom we long to someday see face-to-face. When we offer our prayers in the virtue of hope– that virtue combined with faith and charity– we are helped in our struggle to truly realize the goodness of God and his care for us. He not only loves us in the good times, but he runs out to rescue us when we are most unlovable and damaged… to pick us up and brush us off, to encourage us back on the path, and to provide the strength and the courage we need to bring his will to completion in our lives. That is why he sent his Only Son. Intercede for me, most excellent Nicholas as you listen to the voice and the heart of a priest who calls upon you this Most Holy Night commemorating the Lord’s Nativity. I trust that God will provide–in his own time and in his own way–those good things which we hold earnestly in our hearts and offer in faith.
O, Nicholas, through your intercession, I beg the end of the COVID-19 crisis which plagues our world this night. I know that there are graces which have flowed from this year, in drawing families closer together, in helping people take stock of what is really important in life, in encouraging our scientific community to rise to its highest levels of brilliance in treating this disease and producing a vaccine which we hope will eradicate it. // But, Nicholas, the pain and the separation, the collateral destruction of lives and livelihoods takes its toll on my people this night. We pray that, as announced by Isaiah so many years ago, the Anointed One himself may announce a new year of favor from the Lord, of release to those captive in nursing homes and hospitals and their living rooms and bedrooms, to raise up those who tonight struggle with the effects of this disease // and to accept lovingly those among us who have died. // I call to mind several families this night who have recently lost loved ones– and while trusting that they are in a ‘better place’, I know their loved ones have an rent-open place in their hearts knowing that, short of the eternal joys of heaven, the best place for them is in their loved one’s arms and among their families and at their tables this night to celebrate Christmas joy. I call to mind those who are in the hospital and in their homes this night, and some of whom (will be joining/have joined) us over a video connection into this sacred place. The prayers of this entire Church gathered with me tonight join in hope that God’s strength and deliverance will be with them and with you listening at home. //
O Sainted Bishop of Myra, I ask for peace to come upon our nation. I join millions of Americans tonight who grew up in a nation marked by a different understanding justice, freedom, responsibility, honor, and opportunity… I stand with my brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces—a fraternity which I value only secondly to that of the brotherhood of priests–to pray over the efforts and sacrifices of our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen, paid for with the price of blood and sweat and tears. This precious price has consecrated our nation in its founding principles, limiting government to the solemn duty of protecting the individual’s inalienable rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”… I pray their sacrifices may never go in vain, but produce greater peace and justice and security in our world. // I stand with people of good faith, regardless of party or persuasion, race, creed, color… to beg of God a renewal of our nation and its government… for a new-found respect for human life… for the spirit of servant-leadership from top to bottom, president to dog-catcher and everywhere in between. // I pray for the preservation of religious freedom… of speech, of action, of faith, of belief, that Catholics and other people of good will may proudly and unabashedly bring the best of what they have to offer into the great melting pot of our social discourse. // I pray for the protection tonight of the members of our Armed Forces, at home or away, and that they may return from their far-flung posts and into the arms of their anxious families. // I pray for our president and for our president-elect, Congress and the Judiciary, state and local governments, for the strength of their character and the purity of their patriotism, rather than their success at continuing to prosecute petty party squabbles. // I pray for healing in our media… mass media, social media, movies and music, entertainment and news… that we may not be destroyed by our differences and our indulgences, but that our perennial strengths may draw us together for the good of all the citizens of our nation and of our world. // Finally, I pray for the protection of the weakest among us… the unborn, those who find their hopes diminished by injustice, racism, substandard educational opportunities, systemic poverty… the elderly… the vulnerable… the homeless. Help us to live up to the greatest dignity as a sovereign power by standing for those who are powerless.
Saint Nicholas, look upon the people of St. Anthony Parish today. It has been a long year in the life of this parish, with many of its members scattered by the threat of disease. So many are -not- here tonight because they are righteously unable to come out of fear for the effects of the disease. // So many more are -not- here because their hearts have grown cool or indifferent to the faith. // We offer through your intercession the efforts of St. Dominic School, which continues to teach the faith to our children and inspire families to be like the Lord’s own Holy Family—to be open to the call of God to do amazing things. Our teachers have worked tirelessly not simply to provide a good education for those hoping to have material success in the world, but to help our children grow and become inspired by the living faith of our Lord celebrated upon this altar each and every weekend and each and every day. Help our families to ‘take a step’ in growing in that great gift of faith. // May mothers and fathers whose faith has fallen cold during this year or the many years or decades before find new growth and inspiration through their children as they receive the sacraments. May they find welcome among our members as they participate in the many activities that draw us together as a community throughout the year. May they take their rightful place, previously occupied by their own parents and teachers and the faithful religious sisters and Franciscan Friars who helped form them / to build up a Church that is better-able to evangelize the entire world, yes, but even more importantly, to set our own families and neighborhoods on fire with the Good News. // Console the families and especially children in our midst suffering from the trauma of divorce and separation. // Continue to help our school grow under the leadership of its outstanding principal, whose gifts have lit a fire among our people, helping us to remember our encounters with “holy moments” each day of our lives.
Help our parish families to reach out to all of the resources which are available for them to grow in their faith. Help them to have the courage to return to Mass and the other sacraments when the time is right. Help us all to not take for granted again that privilege of assembling week after week to get to know the Lord just a little better over the course of our lives. Help us all to make the most of the time they have at home, reading sacred scriptures, partaking of what you would want them to see of the thousands of hours of catechetical materials on the “Formed” program, of praying their rosaries, of living their Christian witness in everything they say and do. Help all of us sinners to return to your ways and grant a complete renewal of the use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Help the faithful not loose heart in the sins and the failings of their own pastor as he tries to live the mysterious and challenging calling of his priesthood. // We pray that, under your intercession, O Great Nicholas, that we may assemble even stronger in a few months after a holy and transformative Lenten Journey, with the disease having passed over us, for the great Passover of our Lord on Easter Sunday this year. Bless those who are preparing for the Easter Sacraments… those becoming Catholic and our young people who are preparing for Confirmation. Inspire those who will return, refreshed by this time of extraordinary grace. // Hold in your hand, O Lord, and in your prayers, O Great Nicholas, our own Bishop who strives to lead and teach with your mind and heart and to provide leadership for our parish and those of our diocese during these difficult times. Let the spirit of Stewardship renew your priests and deacons and your people as they share their gifts and their graces for the good of all.
Nicholas, my friend, I have asked a lot of you tonight for your prayer and intercession before the Lord. These are not simply wishes, but the good I desire for those entrusted to my care, which I place alongside my faith in the ever-living and True God… the one who came in to the world to remind us of his love and presence, the one that I hope in, knowing that my hope will never go in vain. I wish I could go on. I wish my words could have been more articulate and meaningful. But that is, again, only a wish // and if no deeper than a wish //it would only call attention to myself tonight. And so, instead, I trust that you will take these groanings and through the power of the Holy Spirit, who searches all minds and hearts, make this prayer worthy before God’s throne tonight.
Love, Tom, age 48