View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dec. 6 - Feast of St. Nicholas

I am one of those old-style four-name Catholics - with three names given at birth, and a confirmation name.

Lee Francis Joseph Strong.

Early on, I discovered there was no "Saint Lee," just some "Saint Leos," so I glommed on to St. Francis of Assisi as my patron saint - an easy choice for an animal-loving, environmental, poetical sort. My current formation with the Secular Franciscan Order is just the latest manifestation of my devotion to Il Poverello.

My confirmation name choice was not due to some special devotion to St. Joseph. I chose that name because it was my brother's middle name. It was a way to say to him how much I loved him - without actually saying it ( I was a pre-teen boy at the time, after all!) But over the years, St. Joseph has taken on special meaning to me for his selfless devotion to family - especially after I became a father - and to serving the Lord in important but less flashy ways.

So my two patrons and role models form amny years have been Ss. Francis and Joseph.

Add St. Nicholas to the mix.

I have long been fascinated by the big guy - both for his more secular "Santa Claus" manifestations, and for the stories and legends surrounding the good Bishop of Myra. One of my favorite movies has always been the original Miracle on 34th Street, and early on in life I liked images of St. Nicholas. As an over-weight bearded fellow myself, he was a natural.

A decade or so ago, being a tough guy to shop for at Christmas time, I half jokingly told my family that what I wanted for Christmas was anything Santa related.

Hoo boy!

Since then - statues, figurines, post cards, dancing Santa's, ornaments, a Santa outfit, etc.

Hundreds of Santa-related items. Literally. I have gotten so much joy out of their gifts and their obvious pleasure when they find something unusual or interesting.

I have to confess that I acquired some of those items myself, getting caught up in the collecting. I keep joking about opening a Santa Claus Museum and putting them all on display. (Well, there is a toilet paper museum, so why not!) Maybe I'd make it a part of the ice cream shop I dream (not seriously) of opening - North Pole Ice Cream!

But there has also been a devotion to the Saint, even if little is really known about him. The stories depict him as a devoted and loving bishop who cared for the poor and became associated with protecting children - the part of the story that developed into Santa Claus. As the father of three daughters, the legend of his helping three girls with dowries to save them ffrom lives of degradation appealed to me. Even if many of the stories about him are legendary, he is still a worthy role model.

For the past four years, I have been able to emulate him through my work as one of Santa's "helpers" at the mall. I try to treat each child with respect and love - joking, laughing, asking questions, singing and even dancing with them. Whatever it takes to make them feel special and cared about even if only for a minute.

Three patron saints then: Francis, Joseph, and Nicholas.

Not a bad combination.

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