Today is actually the Feast day of Ambrose of Milan, but yesterday was the Feast Day of Nicholas of Myra, and I couldn’t pass up on ol’ St. Nick. He was persecuted under Emperor Diocletian and was most likely one of the Bishops at the Council of Nicea in 325. While there, he is reported to have boxed the ears of a heretic. He is the patron saint of sailors and, of course, children.
The legends are fun. In one, he saves the three daughters of a poor man from becoming prostitutes by providing their dowry; in another, he restores to life three children who had been killed and placed in a vat of brine. Neither or both may be true, but in either case, they likely point to certain truths about the character of this now jolly-red-suit-with-white-fur-trim-clad saint: he showed great compassion for those in need and was called to serve the dispossessed.
These, the needy and the dispossessed, are often the ones we would like to look past. Even as the Church, good Christian people, we often find it challenging to look at the sufferings of others because we spend so much of our time looking in. Self-preservation and self-examination are instinctive and good practices, but they can lead to us becoming self-consumed.
Vince Lombardi was the head coach of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1967. During that time, Bart Starr was the first-string quarterback. Starr, as well as everyone else, knew where they stood with regard to Lombardi. Starr said, as you entered Vince’s office, you noticed a large mahogany desk with an impressive organization chart behind it on the wall. The chart had a small block at the top in which was printed: “Vince Lombardi, Head Coach and General Manager.” A line came down from it to a very large block in which was printed: “Everybody Else!”
When we become self-consumed, we see ourselves in a similar position. We’re at the top, and everybody else is below us.
In his book, Ethics, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.” (p.84)
The world is the ground of God’s unfathomable love, and we, like St. Nicholas, can be the conduits of that love by seeing—not the needy and dispossessed / everybody else—but by seeing the objects of God’s love.
In the time of Jesus, the children were among the needy and dispossessed. They could not work or provide for themselves, yet Jesus said to his disciples who tried to prevent those children from coming to him, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” We must be wise in our dealings with the world, but we must not become so calloused or self-consumed that we are preventing the children from approaching Jesus; or us. We are to allow them to come so we might point them to the one who is Love.