O to be in Galway today! Why Galway I hear you ask? Well in the city of Galway the feast of St Nicholas is celebrated as a solemnity, since he is the patron of the city. He is one of the few non-Irish Saints who has the patronage of an Irish town, region or diocese.
Today's feast is a wonderful one. The real St Nicholas of Myra (or of Bari if you are an Italian) is so much better than the pale imitation the commercial world has created. Last year I recounted the story of his striking the heretic Arius at the Council of Nicea - from this we may discern that the Bishop Nicholas was a man's man, a passionate figure who at times transcended the complexities of theological debate for a more sturdy, earthy form of dialogue. Indeed! He was quite forceful in putting his point across.
Many are the legends and the stories of St Nicholas concerning his boundless charity, and many testimonies assure us of his continued assistance for people after his death. He worked numerous miracles for sailors, hence his patronage of sailors and of Galway City which is a port city. That patronage may also be enhanced by the tale of the "translation" of his relics from his bishopric in Myra to the Italian seaport of Bari in 1087. That "translation" might also be known by another word: stealing. Italian sailors nicked St Nicholas (forgive the pun) in order to establish a shrine in their city. Ah, the simple days when you wanted to draw in tourists you just robbed the neighbour's Saint.
A little known fact about the Saint: his relics exude a liquid which has the fragrance of rosewater. This phenomenon was recording when the body was in Myra, and it continues right up to today. Each year on the feast day - today, the liquid is collected and bottled and distributed to the faithful and is said to have been responsible for numerous favours. This phenomenon is not unique, it is known to exude from the relics of a number of Saints, and the liquid is called the "manna of the Saints". So if you ever get over to Bari, pop into the shrine of St Nicholas and see if you can get a bottle of the manna: you might just think of this poor priest here and pick up one for him too: God bless you if you do!
A sad story from Pakistan as a young Catholic girl has been put to death for her faith. Amariah Masih, 18, was shot dead as she resisted a Muslim man who tried to abduct her and rape her. The story is here. It seems there may be more to it than a simple attempt to abuse her: it seems this guy had tried to convert her to Islam and make her his wife and she refused. At her funeral her parish priest has referred to her as a martyr. Another Catholic, perhaps, to join Shahbaz Bhatti among the martyrs of Pakistan: there are enough of them to form a group of companions for the introduction of a Cause for all of them. We pray for Amariah's family. For her fidelity to her faith and her virginity, may she now find a place among St Maria Goretti, St Lucy and all the Virgin Martyrs.
The whinging about the new translation of the Mass is still going on: I was going to link to a few articles on it, but my computer froze during downloading, so I'll take that as a sign from God - let them at it and just get on with it. The image of the goblins or dwarves in the last book of the Narnia series comes to mind (The Last Battle): when the battle is over, this lot just sit around in a huddled circle and try to ignore everyone and everthing.
Finally, on this joyful feast: as we prepare for Christmas, perhaps the words of carols are running through our minds. That lovely carol sung by Nat King Cole, "Chestnuts roasting on a open fire" comes to mind as I read this story of an enterprising crematorium owner who is seeking to harness the energy from cremations (I kid you not, people!). Up in Durham, England, turbines are being installed in the crematorium to generate electricity. It seems one corpse can power 1,500 televisions for an hour. What a tribute!
A few notices:
There will be a demonstration against the government's decision to close the Irish embassy to the Holy See outside Leinster House, on the 8th December, from 2pm to 4pm.
The London Prayer Group will meet at 8pm on Thursday evening in Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane - an hour later than usual due to a Mass at 6.30pm.
The Drogheda Prayer Group will meet on Monday next at 8pm in St Mary's Church, a week earlier than usual due to various ceremonies in the church next week.
Another date for you diary: Tuesday, December 20th, Dublin Film Club, at Ely House, Ely Place, at 7pm. This month's movie, the comedy Nativity starring Martin Freeman.