While praying today's Office, I was struck by the very arresting collect in honour of St Nicholas (as per usual, so much more thought-provoking and therefore salutary than the jejune effusions to be found in modern books, since we pray not so as to change God's will, but rather to conform our will to His, that His will, not ours, may be done, as the Exemplar of prayer taught us in the Garden, to counter the deadly example of self-will of our First Parents in the Garden):
Deus, qui beatum Nicolaum Pontificem innumeris decorasti miraculis: tribue, quæsumus; ut, ejus meritis et precibus, a gehennæ incendiis liberemur. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. R/. Amen.
(It will be observed that I usually give the short ending for orations, as the long ending is only used at Mass and Office.)
Upon analysis of this trenchant collect, a model of doctrinally-pregnant concision, we find that:
1. God was pleased to beautify the Pontiff St Nicholas with innumerable miracles – against the proud self-convinced secular modern vainglorious heresy that such things never happened;
2. We beseech what we pray for to be granted (a) in consideration of the saint's glorious merits as well as by reason of his prayers, but (b) only of course through the One Mediator, Our Lord Christ – safeguarding at once the Communion of Saints, its foundation upon the principle that Christ's one mediation does not exclude but rather is the entire reason for the possibility of all mediation and intercession one for another, on earth as in heaven, the truth that, as St Gregory the Great teaches, God has determined from all eternity to grant certain graces at the intercession of his saints, and the doctrine that the good works of the justified are meritorious;
3. Most strikingly, we beg to be delivered, liberated, freed... from what? from the fires of hell, the flames of gehenna – in classical Lutheran terms, to be saved from sin, Satan, death, and hell: in modern lingo, for St Nick to save us from Old Nick! – for we needs must have what a good Dominican calls "salvation anxiety" (echoing St Paul's "to work out our salvation in fear and trembling"), and realize that we are more than foolish not to fear hellfire, but rather ought pray God, at the intercession of those his chosen now saved forevermore, to be delivered from that most black and dismal fate.
As Our Lady taught the shepherd children at Fatima, pray:
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, and lead all souls to heaven, especially those who most need thy mercy.
How to be delivered from hell? To pray God, to cooperate with graces vouchsafed unto us, not to resist or grieve the Holy Ghost, to repent and get up when we fall, to hie ourselves to be shriven, to partake of the blessed fruits of the Mass, to bring forth the fruit of good works grace-inspired, to pursue good and eschew evil, to cultivate the virtues and root out the vices, to look forward with expectation to death, to be grieved at the world, to aspire to heaven.
All this is most appropriate always, and all days, but now especially in this Advent time, awaiting the blessed day of the Lord's coming amongst us as a man nobis natus, nobis datus, we ought turn from all that hinders our running out to meet him: "If today ye hear His voice, harden not your hearts" (Ps 94).
From the Byzantine Rite:
As a canon of truth and an icon of meekness, of self-control a teacher, the truth of thy deeds hath shown thee to thy flock; wherefore thou didst acquire through humility, high things, through poverty, riches; Father Hierarch Nicholas, intercede with Christ-God, that our souls may be saved.