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1305 A.D.:  Nicolas of Tolentino, Worker of Mighty Cures, Ends His Earthly Life!

 

 

 It is recorded that this St. Nicholas was actually once beaten, by the Devil, with a stick.  He was reportedly plagued by Satan at many times.  The stick was on display at his church for a long time.  It is therefore a reasonable certainty that it was believed to be an actual occurrence by people of that time, who were in the best position to know!  He is among a pretty small number of great saints that apparently received a personal attack from Satan.

 

  Nicolas of Tolentino, Italy, was born in 1245 A.D. to parents that had been unable to conceive, so they prayed to an early 4th century Christian saint named Nicolas of Myra for a child.  When the woman subsequently became pregnant and gave birth to a boy, she named him Nicolas in thanks.  His personality must have been well suited to the work of God, because he was learning the skills and duties of a young Augustinian monk by his late teens, at Recanati and Macerata, Italy.

  By the time 7 years had passed, he was ordained a Catholic priest.  He was marked by a mild and kind disposition.

  When he was about 29 he had a vison of angels calling out to him, "To Tolentino."  This was a town not too distant where two families who had great political differences (one family thought it right to follow the Pope, the other thought the correct authority was the Holy Roman Emperor.)  But despite the moral decline and political factionalism that the town was known for, Nicolas obtained permission to go there, to be a Priest and confessor.  

  At Tolentino he was at first given the job of passing out the daily bread to the poor each morning at the gate....and it was a job he enjoyed.  His generosity in handing out this food was so liberal that his superiors actually had to intercede and ask that he scale back a bit.  But he became very well liked and very well respected for his holiness, also, and his preaching was much loved.  He also worked steadily to keep peace between the feuding families, and as it says in Matthew 5, blessed are the peacemakers!  Nicolas began to be very blessed...by Heaven! 

He became a great faster, and an intercessory for the dead in what the Catholics called purgatory....a place of punishment for such sins as might be still prayed for by the living and perhaps forgiven.  By the time all was finished, he was known as the Patron Saint of Holy Souls, so intensely did he pray for the dead.  Intense prayer, long heart felt fasts, these are the things that signified him spiritually it is said.  Here are two examples of such intercession that survive in writing: 

 

  Once when in bed in a Sunday Nicholas heard the voice on a former acquaintance, a just deceased Friar, telling Nicholas that he was in purgatory and suffering there with a number of other souls in pain and sorrow for their sins.  He asked that Nicolas offer a Mass for them.  Nicholas received permission to offer a mass for them during the entire week, and he did so.  At the end of the week his friend Friar Pellegrino appeared to him very full of gratitude for these masses, and told Nicholas that a great number of those souls that had been with him in purgatory were now in the presence of God.  

  On another occasion, while Nicholas was lighting a lamp in front of the blessed sacrament, his recently deceased flesh and blood brother, a man named Gentile, called to him in a startlingly loud voice and informed him that his soul was now saved.  When he first heard the voice he had thought it was the devil, who he sometimes was accosted by.  But it was his dear brother, who said it was because of the prayers of his devout brother Nicholas and also Nicholas' acts of holy penance that Gentile's sins were pardoned.  Gentile said that he had been bound for certain damnation, and only this intervention saved him.  

 

 { For people taught that there is no purgatory, I cannot say, but Jesus did describe a similar sort of place once when telling the parable of a beggar named Lazarus, who had died and now waited in 'the bosom of Abraham', while on the other side of an in-crossable chasm or divide, in Hades, there waited a rich man that the deceased beggar named Lazarus used to beg bread from.  From Luke 16: v.19-31:

 

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

End Quote

 

 

  This was a parable that Jesus told, so as a parable it is a demonstrational account and certainly by definition it would normally be a fictionalized story designed to illustrate a point.  Yet would Jesus tell a parable that created a false picture or supported a false impression already held by some of the people of His time concerning the realities of the after life?  I personally cannot say for certain exactly what sort of state our deceased dead souls reside in prior to their judgement.  Churches have divided over it.  But praying for the salvation of the souls of the dead was spoken of and performed in at least some portions of the early church according to Biblical scripture.} 

  But back to Nicholas' life:

 

  He was given to great bouts of fasting.  Once he remained ill and seemed unable to recover from such a period of fasting, and it looked grim for him.  But then he received a vision in which he saw both St. Augustine and also the Virgin Mary.  In this vision they advised him to bake bread with a cross designed into the dough, and then to dip it in water and eat it.  He took this advice, recovered with remarkable swiftness, and there after it became his custom to give this to the sick, along with prayer, for their cure.  And it had very great success.  So, even until this day the Augustinian Orders sometimes have St Nicholas bread which they make and provide to the needy.  It has a couple of different forms, but generally has an image of St Nicholas on it, and a cross, and sometimes writing identifying the depicted person as St. Nicholas.   It is quite unusual!

 

Pictures of the Augustinian bread called St. Nicholas Bread.  It was used widely by Nicholas for healings, and apparently is still cooked and used!

 

  As his life went by he became widely famous for healings, for working peace between the feuding families of his town, and even for the resurrection of children who had died.  When he finally died on Sept 10th, 1305, after a long period of sickness and suffering, he was already perceived for quite a distance around his town as a Saint. 

  But he was not officially canonized until Pope Leo XIII undertook the matter in 1884.  Yet once the investigation began, so copious were the recorded instances of his miracles that when the process of verification was completed he had been accredited with an astounding 300 instances of miracles and three actual resurrections of the dead.  There were also cases of his being seen as an apparition by 9 men on a sinking ship at sea in a huge storm when they cried out in prayer for his help.  He appeared to hold flowers in one hand, and wave the other hand towards the storm, which quelled it quickly and saved their lives.  When the Doge of Venice (a title Venice's leaders held) had a great fire in his palace an apparition of St Nicholas appeared and threw holy bread upon the fire, and the fire went out.  And there were a great number of other events, of course. 

  Being accredited with 300 miracles...that is an astronomical amount.  He lived about 60 years, but only 40 of those years as a Friar and Priest, so that is between 7 and 8 miracles a year.  And that is truly a phenomenal number.....a sign that the person distinguished in that sort of way is in very great favor with his Father in Heaven, and with Jesus the Son of that God, to have received such great powers of the Holy Spirit to share with men and women, so that they could have strength for faith.  

  This is a servant of God distinguished even among his fellows.  It is said that at the time he died he had done much to reverse the moral decline in his area of Italy, though soon enough the great Black Plague was to sweep through, testing the faith of most of Europe before it had run its course through several episodic outbreaks over a few centuries time.  Yet many who died had faith, and some of this faith was through the work of Nicholas, who always told those for whom he prayed miracles to 'say nothing about it' so that the glory could always be the Lord's.  And that is what we should do today as well.           

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