JOHN WAYNE AND GOOD ST. NICK
I saw a small portion of this movie today, between football games. It’s called The Quiet Man, a classic, and a pretty good study of character, with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.
John Wayne plays an American who inadvertently kills a man during a boxing match. He comes to Ireland, his homeland, to find peace, but finds Maureen O’Hara instead. The two have a turbulent relationship at first, etc., etc.
In the “turbulence” and fighting right during the celebration right after their wedding, her dowry of gold coins gets knocked over and spilled, but the new husband, young and proud, just wants to take his bride out of there, without stopping to gather the coins.
She is distraught beyond reason, or so it would seem to us Americans. After all, this isn’t an American tradition, so it’s hard to understand why she was so upset. She bewails all the things she will no longer be able to buy for her new home. She will be poor, now, even in marriage.
A dowry. Who would want to even marry a girl who is without a dowry? It used to be a very important issue. And so it was in the Near East, many centuries ago, when three young sisters of marriageable age had no dowry, no hopes of a decent marriage, and most likely, a life of abject poverty and probably prostitution where they would be given money in exchange for their honor. Their father was beyond hope for them.
It so happened that their bishop was known for Christian love and compassion and generosity.
When the plight of this family of three daughters came to his ears, he one night, without letting anyone know, carried a bag of gold to their house and threw it into the open window. The first daughter now had a dowry to present to a husband.
He did the same thing the next night, and the next. In a sense, he ransomed these three daughters from a seemingly hopeless future.
( This is why three golden balls are the sign of a pawn shop – one temporarily sells one’s possessions, with the thought of “ransoming” them back again some day.)
There are many more accounts of this bishop’s kindness and self-sacrificing generosity. His name is Nicholas. We call him St. Nicholas, in one form or another, and today, December 6th, is his feast day.
He is a favorite, even among children, and his Christian love is often expressed in material gift-giving. But what is really more important, to those with adult maturity, are the examples of his strong faith, his keen understanding of Catholic teaching, his courage in the face of imprisonment by a secular world, his firm love for people, and personal kindness. Those are his gifts to each of us.
I wrote in the last post about working and being productive and useful — keeping that in mind even while watching football!
The loss of a dowry in The Quiet Man and the lack of a dowry centuries ago when St. Nicholas was alive represent very real deprivation and dangers that many people face in this world. There are material needs which Christianity teaches us to alleviate wherever possible. And there are also needs for friendship, comfort, compassion, encouragement, teaching, counsel.
The needs are abundant. “Work! for the night is coming….”
St. Nicholas’s time for working is over, but what rich gifts of examples he left behind for us!
We give each other “gifts” at Christmastime.