View all Weekly Emails | December 25, 2017
The Day After?: Weekly Message for 12-26-17
Dear Friends in Christ,
It’s not too late to wish you a Merry Christmas, and that is the subject of this e-mail: we have just under two weeks to wish each other Merry Christmas. I hope that beautiful liturgies were celebrated with your participation yesterday, gifts and hugs were exchanged in abundance, and your day could be summarized as “joy,” but Christmas is an eight-day feast, and the Christmas Season, albeit brief, extends into the start of the New Year.
A birthday is usually celebrated and gone, but Our Savior’s birthday should give us pause, because, in a way, it also reminds us of a different kind of birthday that he has ushered in for every person who believes in him: a birth into eternal life. Today we celebrate St. Stephen as the first martyr. It may seem strange that we would celebrate a martyr during the octave of Christmas, much less that we celebrate three (St. Stephen, St. John the Evangelist—more on him in a minute, and the Holy Innocents), but we celebrate the martyrs because the day of their martyrdom, according to an ancient Christian tradition, is called their dies natalis, the Latin expression for “birthday.” Through their witness they are born anew in Christ: the day of their death is the day of their birth. With Our Lord’s birth the possibility of a new life in him is also born for us.
Tomorrow we’ll celebrate the Feast Day of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist. St. John is considered a white martyr: he was actually, according to tradition, miraculously spared from physical martyrdom while imprisoned. St. John’s example reminds us of the reason for martyrdom, which is not death: love for Christ. The dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, says martyrdom is the supreme witness to love for Christ: “From the earliest times…some Christians have been called upon—and some will always be called upon—to give the supreme testimony of this love to all men, but especially to persecutors. The Church, then, considers martyrdom as an exceptional gift and as the fullest proof of love” (n. 42). The disciple “Christ loved” did not shy away from showing his love for Christ too, no matter what trouble it got him into.
The Holy Innocents remind us that persecution was not long in coming for the sake of Christ. We too may suffer for giving witness to Our Lord and our love for him, but putting our love for Christ into action, not matter what he consequences, is the path to our birth into eternal life. That may not translate into martyrdom, but it will translate into joy.