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St Nicholas of Tolentino
(in central-eastern Italy), Confessor, (entered heaven this day 1306)
It doesn’t shock me that you are so shocked. Did you really think that college culture was a bastion of holiness and virtue? Come now, even you can’t have been so naïve, though you come from such a healthy family and small-town parish. But I guess that’s irrelevant now. It doesn’t matter what your expectations were, it matters what you do in the face of the reality. Might I offer one piece of advice?
Make a priority out of self-discipline in the little things. You see, the reason college culture has become so debased, well, one of the reasons, is the proliferation of the mistaken idea that true freedom comes from self-indulgence instead of self-mastery. I know, it’s crazy and stupid and obviously a lie, but hey, advertisers have a magical way of making lies seem true. And since you are now immersed in the self-indulgence culture, unless you set up some defenses, the lie will seep into your mentality too. The example of today’s saint should help shore up your willpower.
Nicholas was named after the famous St Nicholas of Bari (aka Santa Claus), because his childless parents conceived him after a visit to the shrine in Bari where they asked for a child. His special vocation in life was made manifest at an early age. From the time he could speak his favorite pastimes were prayer, studying the faith, growing in virtue, and serving the poor. He was educated in church schools, the only schools around back then, and made rapid progress. Inspired by the preaching of an Augustinian Friar, he decided to join that Order and dedicate his whole life to serving God. He made his vows before he was eighteen years old.
After being moved around from house to house during his formation, he was finally ordained and took up residence in the town of Tolentino, where for the next few decades he would exercise a ministry of preaching (every day, to packed churches, with the tangible results of daily conversions), hearing confessions (when he wasn’t celebrating the Mass, this was most often where he could be found), and extraordinary miracles, including the resurrection of over one hundred dead children, a large group of which had drowned together. (When he was canonized 140 years after his death, over 300 miracles were recognized by the Congregation for Saints.) He also spent time visiting prisoners and running missions of diplomacy throughout the city, which was torn by civil war at the time.
What was his secret? Was it intellectual brilliance, personal charm, good looks?… Hardly. Rather, he had mastered himself. Since the age of seven he had fasted three times a week, slept on the floor with a stone for a pillow, and subjected his body to numerous other disciplines. The result was a mildness and equanimity of soul that softened the hardest hearts, a wisdom that surrounded him with a literal halo, and a contagious, unquenchable joy. By mastering his own selfish tendencies through self-discipline, he gave the Holy Spirit free reign to make God’s dream for his life come true.
So if you want to have a fruitful and useful college experience, don’t buy into the self-indulgence culture, which seems so innocuous because it’s so widespread. You don’t have to go overboard with fasting and sacrifice – St Nicholas had a special vocation – but at least you can set goals for yourself, draw up a personal schedule, find a good spiritual director to hold you accountable, and make sure you don’t slack off any of your duties in pursuit of extra “fun”.
Your loving uncle, Eddy