As I watched the children rush exuberantly into the sanctuary on Sunday to listen to the story of St. Nicholas, I was reminded of the overwhelming responsibility the Church has to children, on a number of levels.
The most important one is the responsibility to keep them safe from harm. During my homily, I told one of the classic stories of St. Nicholas and children--the one where the evil butcher grinds them into sausages during a famine, and St. Nicholas grinds the sausages back into children to the peoples' amazement and relief. Another version of the story has the butcher curing the children in barrels, and then trying to sell them off as hams. Of course, St. Nicholas foils the butcher's wicked plot in this telling, too. I alerted the congregation ahead of time that the story might be shocking, but that it would turn out just fine in the end. There were understandably several very audible quick intakes of breath and groans when it became apparent where the story of was headed. When I was at St. Nicholas in Elk Grove Village, we told that story just about every year, and the children acted it out with great enthusiasm, running around the sanctuary to wild peals of laughter as they were turned into sausages. The story, of course, is situated in the fourth century when Christianity was the newly minted religion of Constantine's empire, following decades of persecutions and gory martyrdoms at the hands of the Roman state. Life was brutish and bloody, and so the core stories of Christianity were often bloody, too, even the ones that had happy endings.