Remember the Martyrs during the Christmas Octave!

By Chris Sparks

Merry Christmas! The world may think that Christmas ended at midnight on Christmas Day, but the Church knows better. We celebrate an eight-day Christmas Octave, stretching from Dec. 25 to Jan. 1, which is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In those days between the two great feasts are a number of other special feast days, including three feasts of martyrs:

  • the Feast of St. Stephen the Deacon on Dec. 26, who was martyred at the instigation of Saul before he converted and became St. Paul;
  • the Feast of the Holy Innocents on Dec. 28, commemorating those who died when Herod sent his soldiers to slaughter the boys age 2 and under in Bethlehem for fear of the Messiah; and
  • the feast of St. Thomas Becket on Dec. 29, Bishop and martyr, who was killed for his opposition to the English government's interference in the affairs of the Catholic Church in England.

That seems awfully bloody, awfully dark for the Christmas season. What gives?

The reality of Christmas, that's what.

One great gift
Jesus's whole life is touched by the shadow of the looming cross. He is given flesh and blood by His mother Mary so that He can give them back on the cross, take them up again in the Resurrection, and complete the process of placing human nature in eternal communion with the Trinity's own life and love at His Ascension. Jesus's whole life is lived as one great gift, one great self-offering out of love for God and humanity, and that self-offering is martyrdom for the life of the world.

That's the Christian life, as Jesus makes abundantly clear when He tells us to take up our crosses and follow Him (see Mt 16:24-26). And the model Christians have been the martyrs from the very first days of Christianity, starting with Jesus Himself, and followed shortly by the martyrdom of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons in the Church. His trial, testimony, and death by stoning are all recounted in the Acts of the Apostles (see Acts 6-7).

But even before Jesus suffered His Passion, the Holy Innocents lost their lives for Christ, those sons of Bethlehem who were two and under, who might have been the Promised of Ages in the eyes of a terrified Herod. They are honored because they died for Jesus, though all unknowing.

It is appropriate, then, that we take time during this octave to raise our eyes from our own local festivities and take note of the severe persecutions facing our fellow Christians all around the globe.

From the imprisoned believers in China and North Korea to the persecuted Christians of the Middle East and many, many places in between, people are suffering and dying for Jesus every day. Do we remember? Do we pray for them? Do we send what help we can through organizations such as the Pontifical Foundation Aid to the Church in Need? Do we tell their stories in our churches, our homes, and our communities?

Let us heed the call of Pope Francis:

When I hear that so many Christians in the world are suffering, am I indifferent or is it as if one of my family were suffering? When I think or hear it said that many Christians are persecuted and give their lives for their faith, does this touch my heart or not? Am I open to a brother or sister of the family who is giving his or her life for Jesus Christ? Do we pray for each other? I have a question for you, but don't answer out loud, only in your heart. How many of you pray for Christians who are being persecuted? How many? Everyone respond in you heart. Do I pray for my brother, for my sister who is in difficulty because they confess and defend their faith? It is important to look beyond our own boundaries, to feel that we are Church, one family in God!

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ECHR

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