The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs
(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)
The joy of Christmas never goes unmitigated. On December 26, Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Stephan, the first Christian martyr. Stephan was stoned to death as he testified to Jesus’ glorification at God’s right hand. The undercurrent of sorrow is even more pronounced today -- two days later – when the Church remembers the Holy Innocents. As the gospel relates, these infants were slaughtered in Herod’s maniacal obsession to eliminate rivals.
The two sobering feasts of Christmastide remind people of the purpose of this great feast. It hardly celebrates the glory of humanity – its capacity for virtue and autonomy. Rather Christmas brings rejoicing because God has sent His Son to redeem humans from folly. The Christ child is born not just to teach humans God’s holy will, but more importantly to die in satisfaction for their sins. It is like the American missionary doctor in Africa who a few years ago contracted the deadly Ebola virus while working to defeat the disease.
Yet there is no need for us to spend these days in mourning. As St. Stephan and the Holy Innocents shared in Christ’s redemptive death, they have also participated in his triumph over death. We believe that they are nearer to Christ in glory than we can be at the present time. We now join their hymn of praise to God. We also hope to stand among them sooner or later in eternal happiness.