Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first Martyr for Jesus. We will also celebrate the Holy Innocents, (Dec. 28). The Apostle John (Dec.27) will not be celebrated due to the Sunday Feast of the Holy Family tomorrow. The origin of the word “martyr”-- my dictionary tells me is from Old English “martir” via ecclesiastical Latin, from Greek “martur”, witness.
Persons who witness for Christ by giving their lives is for us the first meaning. In the case of Stephen as recorded for us in the Book of Acts, we know he spoke with courage and debated with those who did not believe in Jesus, until they stoned Stephen for his witness. The little children who were slaughtered by order of the wicked and jealous King Herod, who wanted to kill all boys two years and under in order to kill the newborn king of the Jews whom the Magi sought, were too young to “witness” with words, but in a real sense they gave their lives. St. John the beloved disciple was the only one of the 12 who did not die a violent death, but lived into old age. That didn’t mean John didn’t “give his life” nor do I think he did not suffer, so in a certain sense I agree with some spiritual writers who think there can be a certain “white martyrdom” in which a person is not asked to shed his or her blood (red martyrdom) but is called to live courageously witnessing to Jesus by giving their lives to Him.
Perhaps that is why Mary is called Queen of Martyrs. No one can look at Calvary and not see her suffering there, but I think many miss the sorrow she endured in the rejection she felt with Joseph as they looked for shelter in Bethlehem, and realized people not only had no room for them and the Baby in Mary’s womb but God Who is Love was being rejected. Mary gave her life to whatever suffering God permitted for her and her family.
Only God knows how many of us may be called to suffer for our Faith at this time of history. This Christmastime, let us remember the Pope’s Christmas Eve homily in which he said:
…So when we hear tell of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take His words to heart in rapt contemplation of His Face. If we take Him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by Him, He will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for Him and His family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic liberation and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Titus 2:12).
“And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) I hope you all have a manger scene at home and can spend some time with the Holy Family, reflecting with Mary and listening as she and Joseph did, to all God spoke through the Christ Child. May God give us grace to witness with our lives.