DAILY CATHOLIC    FRI-SAT-SUN     December 4-6, 1998     vol. 9, no. 236


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Friday, December 4, 1998

    Friday December 4:
    First Friday of Advent
    Feast of Saint John of Damascus, priest, religious and Doctor of the Church

    Violet or White vestments

      First Reading: Isaiah 29: 17-24
      Psalms: Psalm 27: 1, 4, 13-14
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 9: 27-31

December 4: SAINT JOHN OF DAMASCUS, Priest, Religious and Doctor of the Church

          In the year 675 as Mohammedanism was making its mark in the Holy Land, Saint John of Damascus was born into a wealthy Christian-Arab family. His mother was Catholic, his father Mansur a Moslem. Though John spent all his life under Mohammedan rule, he never wavered from the True Faith which was taught to him by a wise monk named Cosmas, a slave bought by John's father during a Moslem raid in Sicily. When John's father died, his inheritance included the position of chief revenue officer and counselor of the Caliph, the Mohammedan leader who was then Abdul Malek. In the early 700's the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian released a decree condemning the veneration of images. John knew it was a direct assault on Catholicism and he refuted all the Emperor had decreed which naturally drew the wrath of the Byzantine rulers who wanted to silence him, but they were prevented because John was under the Caliph's protection and rule. A year later, largely through the influence of Cosmas, he resigned the prestigious position of finance officer and became a monk at St. Sabas on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Even though Leo's successor, the Emperor Constantine Copronymus denounced John at a false synod he convened in Constantinople, the Patriarch John V still ordained John in 726. Now a priest, John returned to the monastery in Jerusalem to lead the defenders of the orthodox Catholic faith against the iconoclast movement of the Byzantine regime. Known as both a poet and theologian, John wrote his famous The Fount of Knowledge, translated into Latin with the title De Fide Orthodoxa. It had the most profound effect on theology for centuries. Teaming up with John V and Pope Gregory II, he defended the faith and the right to use images and icons of Our Lord, Our Lady and the saints with the beautiful rationale, "It is not the material that we honor but what it represents: the honor paid to images goes to the one who is represented by the image." He wrote countless works including poems still used in the Greek liturgy. The Greeks called him "Chrysoorhoas" which meant "pouring forth gold" since his words were a treasure so profound to those who heard them. John's peaceful death at the monastery at St. Sabas on December 4, 749 marked the end of the Greek Fathers of the Church. On the same date in 1890 Pope Leo XIII proclaimed John of Damascus a Doctor of the Church adding his feast to the Roman Calendar.

Saturday, December 5, 1998

      First Reading: Isaiah 30: 19-21, 23-26
      Psalms: Psalm 147: 1-6
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 9: 35-38; 10: 1, 6-8

SUNDAY, December 6, 1998

      First Reading: Isaiah 11: 1-10
      Psalms: Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
      Second Reading: Romans 15: 4-9
      Gospel Reading: Matthew 3: 1-12

Even though the Second Sunday of Advent supersedes his feast, December 6th is also the Feast of Saint Nicholas, Bishop:

December 6: SAINT NICHOLAS, Bishop

         The universal popularity of Saint Nicholas in both the Eastern Church, the Western Church and in secular circles has contributed to the legend of this saint. All we really know about him is that he was born of wealthy parents near Patara in Lycia part of Asia Minor. He was named bishop of Myra, which was a diocese in decline, but his holiness, zeal and accounts of miracles transformed the diocese into one of great faith. As bishop, he was among those who signed the doctrine affirming Jesus Christ's Divinity at the Council of Nicea in 325. Nicholas used his well-endowed inheritance from his deceased parents for the Church, aiding the poor. One legend, which spawned the concept of Santa Claus relates that there were three very poor sisters whose father, in order to make ends meet for the family, was about to turn them into prostitutes so he could also afford their future dowries. Nicholas, hearing of this, tossed a bag of gold into their house through a window on three different occasions, thus preserving them from a life of sin. The repentant father, discovering it was Nicholas, later fell at his feet in gratitude saying, "You are my helper. You have delivered my soul and my daughters' from hell." On another occasion, unable to personally reach the Emperor Constantine, through prayer he appeared in a dream to the Emperor informing the ruler that the three imperial officers he was going to put to death for treason, were innocent. Upon awakening, Constantine freed them immediately. Nicholas destroyed pagan temples and even managed to get a governor to admit publicly that he was condemning three innocent men because he had been bribed. The men were set free and the governor deposed. During the tyrannical rule of the Emperor Diocletian he was incarcerated for his faith along with many other Christians. There he was tortured and died around the age of 65 in the middle of the 4th Century. Nicholas had always been renowned for his charitable works toward poor children and, after his death the legend grew enormously. When the faith was brought to Northern Germany, so also were the tales of St. Nicholas who took on the folklore of "Weihnachtsmann", German for "the man of Christmas Eve. His popularity increased in the 11th Century when his relics were transfered from Myra to Bari in Italy. His shrine in this Adriatic coastal town became one of the most beloved of the Medieval times, visited by many crusaders who brought the legend back to various parts of Europe. The practice of giving gifts and sweets to children on the eve before the Christ Child's birth grew both from a secular standpoint as well as a religious one, for the adults spent much time in Church at Christmas with extensive ceremonies and if the children had something to keep them occupied, it made it easier on everyone. In Holland St. Nicholas became Sint Klaes which was soon translated into Santa Claus since the German name for Nicholas is Klaus. The image of Santa Claus however was taken from the pagan god Thor and associated with winter and the Yule log. They depicted him riding on a chariot led by two goats whose names were Cracker and Gnasher. It wasn't long before this translated into reindeer and the rest, as we know, is commercialism. St. Nicholas Day is still celebrated in Europe to this day with sweets placed in the shoes of children the night before. St. Nicholas is considered the patron saint of Greece, Sicily, Lorraine in France and Apulia, not to mention the universal patron of children everywhere. His popularity can be attested in the fact there are thousands of churches named in his honor throughout Europe.

Monday, December 7, 1998

      First Reading: Isaiah 35: 1-10
      Psalms: Psalm 85: 9-14 and Isaiah 35: 4
      Gospel Reading: Luke 5: 17-26

December 7: SAINT AMBROSE, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

          This Doctor of the Church was born in 340 in Trier, Germany and rose swiftly through the secular ranks as the son of a praetorian prefect of Gaul. When his father died, he was taken to Rome where he was afforded the best education and soon became a renowned oratorian and was sent to Milan. There he began to be exposed to Christianity and plunged in to studying the faith. But before he could be baptized the bishop died and a bitter struggle broke out between Catholics and Arians for control of the bishopric. When Ambrose sought to mediate the fracas, his golden voice prompted the people to unanimously elect him Bishop of Milan even though he was not ordained, let alone baptized. Though he refused at first, the Emperor adhered to the vox populi and enforced the election. Thus he was baptized on this day in 374 and consecrated a bishop the same day at the age of 34. He took his position seriously and his golden voice converted countless souls to the faith as he became one of the staunchest defenders of the faith against Arianism. As the great Roman Empire began to crumble, Ambrose built from these decaying ruins hope for the Church through his dedication to Christ and His teachings. Despite insidious politics between the emperors of East and West, and the threat of Arianism and paganism, Ambrose persevered and, through his leadership and example, paganism was defeated and Christianity rose to new heights after three centuries of persecution. Ambrose, an exemplary example of what a bishop should be, is best known as the man who brought Saint Augustine back to the faith and baptized him. Ambrose died in Milan on April 4, 397 ten years after welcoming Augustine into the Mystical Body of Christ.

December 4-6, 1998       volume 9, no. 236


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