The saints are known as holy men and women who can teach us, by their lives, the importance of loving and revering God. Many prayers are offered to them for their guidance and assistance. In the case of Nicholas of Tolentino, another saint blessed his life from its conception.
Nicholas’ parents were childless and middle-aged when they set out to the shrine of St. Nicholas of Bari, that generous bishop who gave birth to the legend of Santa Claus, in hopes of beginning a family. They promised if given a son he would be named Nicholas and would be consecrated to God. In 1245 their heartfelt prayers were answered, and Nicholas Gurrutti was born.
From the time he was a small child Nicholas had a calling to religious life, which was validated when he heard an Augustinian preacher, Father Reginaldo, say: “Don’t love the world or the things of this world, because this world is passing away.” The friar’s preaching had a profound effect on the young man, and he sought entry into the Augustinian Friars in 1259. He was accepted and followed a rigorous regime: “he fasted on bread and water four days a week; he never ate meat, fish, fruit or cheese ... slept little more than three or four hours a night ... and would kneel on a sack of beans in his cell while praying.” (M. DiGregorio, OSA) His prayer life was unparalleled, and it was speculated he often spent 13 hours of the day in various forms of prayer.
It was during this prayer time that Nicholas heard angelic voices urging him “to Tolentino,” and he was soon assigned to that town by his superior. Continuing his stringent prayer life, he became a fervent preacher and a good, kind-hearted and amiable priest. It is said that when he heard confessions he would often ask people to perform a simple penance and take the more difficult penance upon himself. While he maintained his strict diet, he allowed and even insisted that other friars be treated occasionally with a special meal. Nicholas preached in and out of church, in and out of season, working with the poor and abandoned in the streets. He performed many miracles and had visions where those who had died came and told him how his prayers had helped their souls towards salvation. From then on he offered many Masses for the souls of the departed, fully convinced that prayer helped in all things.
After 30 years of faithfully ministering to the citizens of Tolentino and his own community, St. Nicholas died surrounded by his fellow friars and at peace with his God, on September 10, 1305.
Saints and our lives
“... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went about doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. (Acts 10:38)”
These words, speaking of Christ, could also have been spoken of St. Nicholas of Tolentino, who surely was anointed by God and “went about doing good.” It was often in small things, but his actions in all of his life were motivated by his prayer and by his faith; consequently he spread the “fragrance of Christ” wherever he went. Being kind to those seeking healing in the confessional, having a warm and genuine smile for those he met on the street, gladly sacrificing for his Augustinian confreres, forgiving those who may have offended him in any way — all these describe the way in which St. Nicholas lived out his vocation. We, too, can follow the path of generosity and simple goodness which leads to God, spending our day in tiny but prayerful offerings. As another prayerful saint, Mother Teresa once said: “To God there is nothing small. The moment we have given it to God, it becomes infinite.”
Intercessory prayer is an important part of our faith, and is highlighted many times in scripture with Moses, Daniel and many prophets and kings, including Christ, praying for their people. It was also an important part of St. Nicholas’ prayer life, and he interceded for many, both living and deceased. His prayers cured many when townspeople sought him out to help them, but he always urged those he aided to forget him and thank God. His continual prayers for the departed earned him the title of Patron Saint of the Holy Souls. Do we understand the importance of praying for those we love? God urges us to prayer, giving us the freedom to approach Him on behalf of others. The power of our prayers can never be fully known by us in this life, but will be revealed one day as the force which lifted many and bore them safely home.
Taken from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Nicholas of Tolentino,” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.