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The Christmas Feasts

December 25, 2017

 

 

On the three days following the great feast of Christmas we celebrate the feasts of Saint Stephen, Saint John the Evangelist and the Holy Innocents. In one sense, it is somewhat jarring to be in the presence of the image of the new-born in the manger one day, and the very next day marvelling at the witness of Saint Stephen, the first to be martyred for his fidelity to Christ.

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) offered some reflection on these days. She sees a tableaux of people surrounding the manger, praising God for the wonder of the Incarnation. This is an extract from her writings:

Closest to the newborn Saviour we see St. Stephen. What secured the first martyr of the Crucified this place of honour? In youthful enthusiasm he accomplished what the Lord said upon his entrance into the world: A body you have prepared for me. Behold, I come to fulfil your will. He practiced complete obedience that is rooted in love and revealed in love. He followed the Lord in what may be by nature the most difficult for the human heart, and even seems impossible: He fulfilled the command to love one's enemies as did the Saviour himself. The Child in the manger, who has come to fulfil his Father's will even to death on the cross, sees before him in spirit all who will follow him on this way…

Not far from the first martyr stand the flores martyrum, the tender buds that were broken before they had ripened to the act of sacrifice. There is a pious belief that the grace of natural maturity came to the innocent children beforehand and gave them an understanding of what was happening to them so they could give themselves freely and thus be ensured martyrdom. Even so, they do not resemble the valiant confessor who heroically took on the cause of Christ. In their defenceless surrender, they are much more like lambs led to the slaughter. So they are the example of uttermost poverty. They have no other goods than their lives. And now even that is taken from them...

Neither will the Saviour allow him who was particularly dear to him during his life, the disciple whom Jesus loved, to be absent from the manger. He was allowed to rest on the heart of Jesus to be initiated there into the secrets of the Divine Heart…We can learn from John how precious human souls are to the Divine Heart and how we can give him no greater joy than by being willing instruments on his shepherding way. John at the manger of the Lord—this says to us: See what happens to those who give themselves to God with pure hearts. In return, as a royal gift, they may participate in the entire inexhaustible fullness of Jesus' incarnate life. Come and drink from the springs of living water that the Saviour releases to the thirsty and that stream to eternal life. The Word has become flesh and lies before us in the form of a little newborn child…