Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Merry Christmas! While for so many Christmas is already over and the tree is already at the curb, in the Church the festivities have only just begun! This week we continue to celebrate the holiday in what is called the Octave of Christmas. The joy of Christmas is too much to be contained in one day, so it extends over eight. As God created the world in seven days, Christ recreated the world on the eighth, so eight days serves as a symbolic celebration of this recreation. So don’t put those Christmas cookies away just yet! We enjoy the great feast until the New Year, and even then the Christmas season does not officially end until January 12th when we celebrate the Baptism of the Lord.
Not only is the Christmas season important in itself, but in these days we also celebrate a number of significant feasts which help deepen our reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation. On December 26th, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, the “protomartyr” or first martyr. In the Acts of the Apostles we find the story of St. Stephen, who was stoned to death for preaching the message of Christ. It is incredible to think that the Church follows such a joyous day, with a seemingly sad feast day. Yet of course, with faith, the Feast of St. Stephen is actually an extension of the joy of Christmas. We see straightaway the fruit of the Incarnation – a man gives his life for our Lord Jesus Christ, and he immediately receives the reward of eternal life.
On the 27th we celebrate St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. On this day we do not reflect on a martyr who shed his blood (though he endured great suffering, being boiled alive in oil), but a man who exemplified the love that Christ taught. The Gospel of John refers to him as the beloved disciple, and in a way he symbolizes all of us who seek intimacy with Christ in our daily lives. Further, we reflect on John taking care of our Blessed Mother the rest of her days, hearing from her those stories of the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Nativity when the shepherds and Magi came to give homage to the Lord.
And on the 28th we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those infants whom Herod killed to try and rid himself of the “newborn King of the Jews,” who threatened his authority. Again, not the most cheerful day, but we see lived out the words of Christ, “I have come to bring not peace but the sword.” The coming of Christ is a threat to all worldly power, but also a threat to all worldly comfort for each of us. Our world seeks to destroy the message of Christ no matter the cost, and we can see it perhaps most profoundly in the analogous crime of abortion which takes the lives of so many unborn. Many will stop at nothing to be rid of the message Christ brings – of sacrifice, selflessness, and selfdenial – for the sake of indulgence and autonomy over their own lives.
Perhaps in these days as we celebrate the hope and joy of the Incarnation, as we prepare for the New Year when we make our resolutions, we commit ourselves to imitate in some small way these inspiring saints. Maybe we commit ourselves to praying a little more each day. Maybe we sign up for Monday adoration, or come to daily Mass more often. Maybe we pick up some spiritual reading each day, or get to confession more often. Or maybe we strive to break those sinful habits that lead us from God. We think of this week’s saints and ask if we are willing, like them, to entrust ourselves to Christ completely. If they were willing to risk their lives so beautifully, shouldn’t we be willing to give up those worldly things that keep us from a closer relationship with God?
Like the Magi who go home by another way, may we all leave this Christmas Season renewed and transformed, ready to live out our faith more vibrantly each day.
Yours in Christ,