Following Christmas the Church celebrates three other important people and events closely related to the Incarnation and Redemption: December 26th – the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr; December 27th – St. John, the beloved disciple; and December 28th – the infants of Bethlehem, the Holy Innocents. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross writes in The Mystery of Christmas that these all have a place around the Child in the manger:
One the day after Christmas the Church removes her white garments and clothes herself in the colour of blood, and on the fourth day in the violet of mourning: Stephen, the first marytr, the first to follow his Lord to death, and the infants of Bethlehem and Judea who were brutally slaughtered by crude henchmen, all have a place around the Child in the manger. What is the meaning of this message? Where now are the jubilant sounds of the heavenly choir? Where the peaceful bliss of Holy Night? Where the peace on earth? Peace to those of good will; but not all are of good will. Therefore, the Son of the Eternal Father must leave the splendour of heaven because the mystery of evil has wrapped the earth in dark night.
Darkness covered the earth and he came as light to illumine the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend him. To those who received him, he brought light and peace; peace with the Father in heaven, peace with everyone who like them are children of light and children of a heavenly Father, a deep interior peace of the heart; but no peace with the children of darkness. To them the Prince of Peace brings no peace but the sword. He remains for them a stumbling block of scandal against which they charge and are smashed. That is the one hard and serious fact which we may not allow to be obscured by the visible attraction of the Child in the manger. The mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of evil belong together. The dark night of sin stands in stark and sinister contrast with the Light which came down from heaven. The Child in the manger extends its little hands and its smile seems to be saying what would come forth later from the lips of a man: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened’; and the poor shepherds out on the hills of Bethlehem, who heard the good news of the angel, follow his call and make their way with the simple answer, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem’. Also from the kings from the orient lands, who followed the wondrous star with like simplicity, there dropped from the infant hands the dew of grace and ‘they rejoiced with great joy’. These hands give and request at the same time: you wise men, lay down your wisdom and become like children; you kings, give up your crowns and your treasures and bow down meekly before the King of kings; do not hesitate to take up the burdens, sorrows and weariness which his service demands.You children, you cannot yet give of your own free will, of you these little hands will request your gentle life before it has even begun; it can serve no better purpose than sacrifice in praise of the Lord.
‘Follow me’ say the little hands, words which later will come from the lips of the Man. Thus they spoke to the disciple whom the Lord loved and who is now also a part of the group at the manger. St. John, the young man with the pure, youthful heart followed without asking, ‘where to? why?’ He left his father’s boat and went with the Lord along all his ways, even to Golgotha. ‘Follow me’ – young Stephen understood this also. He followed the Lord in the struggle against the powers of darkness, the blindness of obstinate unbelief; he bore witness to him with his word and his blood; he followed him in his Spirit, the Spirit of love, which resists sin but loves the sinner, and even in death intercedes with God on behalf of the murderer. These are the figures of light that kneel around the manger: the gentle, innocent children, the faithful shepherds, the humble kings, Stephen, the enthusiastic youth and beloved apostle, John – all of them follow the call of the Lord.
In contrast to them, there is the night of incomprehensible callousness and blindness: the scribes who have information as to the time and place where the Saviour of the world was to be born, but who say nothing about ‘Let us go to Bethlehem!’ and King Herod who wants to kill the Lord of life. In the presence of the Child in the manger, the spirits line up to take sides. He is the King of kings and Lord of life and death. He utters his ‘follow me’ and whoever is not for him is against him. He also speaks for us and invites us to choose between light and darkness.
(Taken from The Mystery of Christmas, the title of a lecture given by Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross on January 13, 1931 in Ludwigshafen)
Mary lived only for her Son and accepted all that happened to Him. This was an excruciating martyrdom for any creature to endure. Her love cost her indescribable suffering – to see her child in so much pain. Yet, this scene at the foot of the cross expresses her love for us too. Her love aided Christ in His mission. She united herself to Jesus by her presence at the foot of the cross uniting her will to the Father’s will at this moment and for this purpose, joining with this her prayers and sacrifices.
She will continue to carry out her mission to lead souls to her Son until the end of time. It is still her mission to help convert sinners and to help believers to grow in holiness.
Oh! What love our Mother has for us! In order to bring us to life she had to give her Son up to death!
Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat and Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were among the thousands that were martyred during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1938). During this conflict many priests and whole religious communities were put to death because of their faith.
Blessed Maria Mercedes Prat was born in Barcelona. Even in her childhood she was devoted to God receiving Communion everyday. She was known for her kindness and goodness toward others and was of firm character. In 1904 she entered the novitiate of the Society of St. Teresa of Jesus and made her temporary profession in 1907. In 1920 she was assigned to the motherhouse in Barcelona and on July 19, 1936, the entire community was forced to give up the school and flee. She was arrested and shot on July 23rd because she was a religious.
Blessed Mary Pilar, Teresa and Mary Angeles were Carmelite nuns from a convent in Guadalajara, Spain. They were martyred on July 24, 1936, after witnessing to their faith and offering their lives for the Church.
Most of us will never be called to be martyrs like those of the Spanish Civil War. For us our lives will be one of a long slow martyrdom. We will spend our lives trying to become true lovers of God by having little regard for our own life and honor. Easier said than done!
St. Teresa reminds those of us who practice this Carmelite spirituality that “the whole matter, or a great part of it, lies in losing concern about ourselves and our own satisfaction. The least that any of us who has truly begun to serve the Lord can offer him is our own life.” Offering the Lord our own life means dying to self. She goes on to say, “It is clear that if you are a true religious or a true person of prayer and aim to enjoy the delights of God, you must not turn your back on the desire to die for God and suffer martyrdom. For don’t you know yet, Sisters, that the life of a good religious who desires to be one of God’s close friends is a long martyrdom? A long martyrdom because in comparison with the martyrdom of those who are quickly beheaded, it can be called long; but all life is short, and the life of some extremely short.”
“So, let us try hard to go against our own will in everything.” ~(Way of Perfection 12:2)