St. Nicholas Formed His Conscience On The Gospels

St. Nicholas Formed His Conscience On The Gospels December 6, 2023

Tilemahos Efthimiadis: St. Nicholas / Wikimedia Commons

What made St. Nicholas so beloved, and well-known around the world, is that he was a bishop who did what his conscience told him to do. His conscience was formed upon the message of Jesus who told his followers to take care of those in need. While the legends concerning his life were quite late in being written down, the most famous ones were likely based upon oral tradition and so have a kernel of historical truth associated with them. The most famous story told about him was when he helped three young women receive the money they needed in order not to have to go into prostitution to survive. The story demonstrated the noble character which Nicholas had, the kind which helped him become a good and holy bishop as he was concerned about the needs of the people instead of his own personal pleasure.

While at the time St. Nicholas lived, women might have been granted some level of autonomy, most only had it if they were rich or from an influential family.  Most women had limited means to make it in the world if they had to do so without help from their family. This meant, if they came from a poor background, or became an orphan, or especially, both, society gave them very few if any outlets in which to survive, and those which they did have, often meant they had to sell themselves short, such as become prostitutes. Nicholas knew this, and so he did what he could to help; he couldn’t change society, nor the unjust structures of sin which created the conditions which forced women to sell themselves in such a manner, but he could, and did, use his own inheritance, to take care of those who did not have any of their own to survive. Today, we can see the situation is different, in some ways, but not entirely different. Poor women suffer from similar indignities as women did in the past. They often find the system is stacked against them, especially if they are single mothers barely making their way in the world. Many of them cannot deal with the burden, and need help, but if they do not get any, then they do things which those who do not help them tell them not to do, such as have abortions. This is especially true in regards so-many so-called pro-life Christians: they call such women “welfare queens” and support dismantling the social safety  net which allows many of such women to barely cope, and then they act surprised when those women, unable to cope, act in ways against life: their actions against the women, against their dignity, against their very livelihood, shows such women were already told that their life was seen to be worthless, that all the so-called declarations of the dignity of life and the human person  is just empty rhetoric which no one believes. The spirit of St. Nicholas is with those who seek to help such women, not those who make the situation worse for them.

We should pray that we can have spiritual leaders like Nicholas, those who take their role as shepherds seriously, those who will follow a conscience developed from the teachings of Christ, such as the Sermon on the Mount, and do what they can to help those in need as well as to effect change in society when possible. “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.” (Heb. 13:18 RSV).

We also need to do what Christ said God expected of us. Even if our leaders fail to imitate the spirit of Nicholas, we should not use that to excuse ourselves. We need to heed the call of justice and work to alleviate those who are suffering injustices. We must listen to those who have been abused and give them safe spaces. We must make sure people have what they need so they don’t sell themselves out just to survive. And when we find ourselves lacking in the spirit of charity, we should pray to God that we might attain it, so that we can show the world what it is to be a follower of Christ and to love our neighbor as ourselves. “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Heb. 13:20-21 RSV).

We must try to see the world as God sees it. We should desire to share in the pathos of God for the poor and needy.  We should try to understand why Jesus gave warnings, through various woes, to the rich and powerful, indicating if they did not change their ways they would not receive the blessings God wants for them:

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man!  Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Lk. 6:20-23 RSV).

The prophets were persecuted because they proclaimed the needs of justice. Jesus warned us that if we followed him and engaged the spirit of justice which he promoted, we should not be surprised that those in position of power and authority, those who have taken advantage of the situation, would oppose us and do all they can to stop us, just as they did to the prophets. They might laugh at us or at the miseries of others; they might try to suggest we are evil for changing the system, but their power and influence will not last. They will find that they will have to make amends for what they have done, and those who suffered at their hands will be lifted up and received in glory.

The prophets warned Israel when its leaders selfishly lived luxurious lives on the backs of the people that they were creating the conditions for their own downfall. Christians need to give the same warning to those societies which reinforce and promote injustices in the world today. Christians who do so will be following the example of Jesus, who said “woe to the rich.” They, of course, should do so in such a way, like Nicholas, that is, by doing what they personally can for those in need. They need to let the message of Jesus in the Gospels form their conscience, and follow what it tells them to do.  Nicholas is remembered because he did just that. He showed us that even those who can do the little they are capable of doing can bring great good into the world. This is why his feast is important, for it reminds us what it is to be a Christian.


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