Advent Reflections – December 10, 2015

Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return: In Church Tradition

Very simply, love is choosing to put another’s needs before our own. The First Letter of John says,

If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? – 1 John 3:17

Everyone knows the iconic man, who is merry, jolly and bright, and the joy he brings to children across the world. There is a story about St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, that beautifully demonstrates this kind of love.

Nicholas lived in the 300s (fun fact: he attended the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. which is when the Church formalized our understanding of Jesus’ relationship with the God the Father and officially formulated the first part of the Nicene Creed – the statement of faith we still say to this day at Mass). In those days, a father had to produce a dowry, money or some other possession of value, that would go with his daughter when she married. No dowry = little chance of a husband. The father in our story was poor and had 3 daughters. Nicholas heard of this situation and had the means to fix it. On three separate nights, he tossed a bag of gold coins (some legends say a ball of gold) into an open window, allowing the girls to have enough money for a respectable marriage.

Photo of St. Nicholas byzantine icon from the Chapel of the Holy Trinity at Theological SChool of Chalki, Heybeliada Turkey. By Lapost (2015). Via Wikimedia (2005), CC.

Nicholas had two options. He could have called the father to his home and graciously bestowed the money. He could have made a public spectacle of the event, showing off to everyone what a kind and generous person he is. But, Nicholas heard well the admonishment of Jesus:


“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. – Matthew 6:1

Is it easier to do acts of love when others are watching? How can I more freely act in love without looking for praise or recognition in return?


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