December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas, a third century devout Christian who gave his inheritance to the poor, became a bishop, participated in the Council of Nicaea, was persecuted but not martyred, and is celebrated today for the way he lived, not for distribution of presents once a year on the birthday of Jesus. So, we may have well-justified curiosity about how St. Nicholas morphed into the American Santa Clause. It began with the Reformation’s de-emphasis of saints. You can read the story HERE. Here is an excerpt from that linked article about the pivotal years in the early 1800’s.
Maybe the US Church should consider returning to the distribution of gifts at the Feast of St. Nicholas and focusing only on worship of Jesus, God in flesh, on December 25th.
Speaking of Jesus
Given that Advent is to be a time of personal reflection, this may be a bit more personal than previous posts. I hope I am not skewing the discussion too much. Please feel free to comment and critique.
Our discussion about “having a personal relationship” with Jesus, God incarnate, reminded me of a song of my Baptist youth and our discussion about responses to the question, “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?” The lyrics of that remembered popular song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus are by Christian Irish poet and Canadian citizen Joseph Scriven who wrote them in the 1850’s to comfort his ill mother. The music came a dozen or so years later by Charles C. Converse.
I was pretty sure I wouldn’t find that song in a Catholic Hymnal but did a quick check of first line indices in three that we have at home. Beginning with “What,” I found What Child is This, What Doth the Lord Require, What is this Place, What Star is This, What Wondrous Love is This, and Whatsoever You Do but no “What a friend….”
There are some things I like about What a Friend. I like the community emphasis suggested by use of first person plural rather than first person singular, and I like the clear expressions that Jesus is God, Lord, precious Savior, and blessed Savior. But, it seems to me that the song, if not all about me, is at least all about us and what we need and want rather than about Him and our appropriate responses to Him.
Personal piety is of course personal, and it’s not my intention to criticize anyone’s personal piety. But, as Father Linsky pointed out during the discussion, our personal relationship with Jesus begins with an answer to the question he asked St. Peter, “Who do you say that I am?”
The concept of having a personal relationship with God is unique, among world religions, to Christianity. It begins with our response to that question, our confession that He is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and then with responding to his words such as, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
That leaves me uncomfortable with thinking of Jesus as a buddy, or “friend,” on whom I can call for anything I need. (It also leaves me uncomfortable with my behaviors and the way I spend some of my time.) Our personal relationships with Jesus have to be on His terms and not on ours. He didn’t some to satisfy the need of the Jews for a worldly and powerful king, and he didn’t come to satisfy our needs for a spiritual ATM.
I checked the Gospels and found only two instances referring to a friend or friends of Jesus:
NAB John 11:11 He said this, and then told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, but I am going to awaken him.”
NAB John 15:14-15 You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
Therefore, as far as a “personal relationship with Jesus goes,” I believe I should be concerned not about whether I have Jesus as a friend but whether I can be considered a friend of Jesus as St. Nicholas certainly seems to have been.
It’s All About Jesus
Everything in the Catholic Church is all about Jesus:
SACRED SCRIPTURE ALL ABOUT JESUS: CCC 134: “All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.”
BLESSED VIRGIN MARY POINTS US TO JESUS: NAB John 2:5 His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”
THE CHURCH IS THE BODY OF CHRIST JUST AS JESUS WAS THE BODY OF CHRIST: Ephesians 4:11-14 And he gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the extent of the full stature of Christ, so that we may no longer be infants, tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.
Getting to Know Jesus Better
So, for Advent, one option is to get to know Jesus better, and be a better friend of Him, with a focus on the parables he told. Here is a handy list I found on line at this site. They are in at least one person’s understanding of their chronological order. Did you know there are 46? Well some people may count a bit differently but 46 is a pretty good number.
- Six are found in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke)
- Three are found in two of the Synoptic Gospels
- Thirty seven are found in only one Gospel
- Only one is in the Gospel of John (#21)
- Only 374 verses of Sacred Scripture comprise all forty six, an average of eight verses per parable!