December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas and the Martyrs

 A Most Blessed Christmas to all! 
Immediately following Christmas, we are reminded that following the Crib comes the Cross.  We find the 3 ways to make our way to Heaven, by shedding blood for the love of God, by living a life of suffering via heroic virtue for the love of God or by innocence.  There is no other way to Heaven except by dying to ourselves for the love of God.

On December 26th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of blood. A martyr is someone who dies for the love of God.  After St. Stephen addressed the Sanhedren (Acts 7: 1-50) he concludes without mincing any words:

You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
It might suffice to say, the members of the Sanhedren were not happy at that moment... and so continues the story....

Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him. But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death.

Saul was later converted and became the great St. Paul... imagine the meeting of St. Paul, after after he was beaheaded, with St. Stephen at the Pearly Gates!
On December 27th we celebrate the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, the Beloved Apostle, the one who was pure, holy and filled with heroic virtue who desire to give his life's blood for the love of God, but instead was called to spend his life suffering for the love of God.  He was also the one Christ gave His Mother to from the Cross.  Imagine the pain he must have suffered after the loss of his Beloved Lord and then all his closest friends, the Apostles were martyred.... the union of friends through Christ is the strongest bond of friendship there can be... then also the loss of his Heavenly Mother, the pain must have been horrific.  It didn't end there either as the anti-Christs at the time also tried to kill him by putting him in a vat of boiling oil... he survive unscathed.  Always go to the saints during your hardships, they've "been there done that" and earned their Heavenly Crown!

Today, however, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. (Commentaries from Dom Gueranger)
The Holy Innocents give their testimony - the only one in their power - of suffering for their Divine Master: but the Christian who has attained the use of reason has more to do than suffer for his faith: he must confess it before persecutors and tyrants when they bid him deny it, and also before that more permanent tribunal of the world and his own passions.

We were (well, will be) blessed to have  High Mass with our children's choir in their honor. What beautiful music!

All Hail! Ye Infant Martyr Flowers
All Hail! Ye infant martyr flowers, cut off in life’s first dawning hours: As rosebuds snapt in tempest strife, when Herod sought your Savior’s life.

You, tender flocks of lambs, we sing, first victims slain for Christ your King: Beneath the altar’s heavenly ray, with martyr palms and crowns ye play.

For their redemption glory be, O Jesu, Virgin born, to Thee! With Father and with Holy Ghost, forever from the martyr host.

 Audit Tyrannus Anxius & Salvete Flores Martyrum
Hymns taken from a poem by Prudentius, sung at Matins & Vespers

The anxious tyrant hears that the King of kings is come, who would rule the people of Israel and possess the royal throne of David. Rendered frantic by the message, he cries out: 'A successor is at hand, we are driven away: Go, executioner, take the sword, drench the cradles with blood!' Let every male-child be "slain, and every nurse be watched, and every Babe feel thy sharp-edged blade, even whilst he sucks his mother's breast. Not a Mother about Bethlehem but I suspect her; then watch them all, lest they hide their boys from thee.'

On this the executioner goes, and in his wild cruelty plunges his naked dagger into the tender flesh and the but freshly formed hearts of these little ones. But where shall he strike? where find space enough to hold a gaping wound in these infant-bodies not so big as the dagger in his hand? Yet still these butchers murder every child. Here it is an infant dashed against a rock, covering its flinty sides, oh! cruel sight! with blood and brains and eyes. There it is a lovely babe torn from his mother's arms and thrown into a deep stream, whose gurgling waters weep whilst drowning sobs and life so sweet as these.

Hail, ye Flowers of the Martyrs! The enemy of Christ cut you down in the very threshold of life, as rose-buds are snapped by a storm. First Victims for Jesus! Tender flock of His Martyrs! ye, with sweet simplicity, play with palms and your crowns even at the very altar of your sacrifice! And what does Herod gain by this dark crime? Does it give him what he sought? The single One he cared to kill is Jesus, and He still lives! The stream of infant-blood has ceased to flow, and He alone is safe: the Virgin’s Child has escaped that sword which robbed all other Mothers of their babes.

So was it in that time of old, when Moses. the liberator of his people. and the type of Christ. escaped the senseless edicts of the wicked Pharaoh. Jesus, Who wast born of the Virgin, to Thee be glory, with the Father and the nourishing Spirit, in the endless ages.

The Holy Innocents 
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1877) 
They scarcely waked before they slept,
They scarcely wept before they laughed; 
They drank indeed death's bitter draught, 
But all its bitterest dregs were kept 
And drained by Mothers while they wept. 
From Heaven the speechless Infants speak: 
Weep not (they say), our Mothers dear, 
For swords nor sorrows come not here.
Now we are strong who were so weak, 
And all is ours we could not seek. 
We bloom among the blooming flowers, 
We sing among the singing birds;
Wisdom we have who wanted words: 
Here morning knows not evening hours,
All's rainbow here without the showers. 
And softer than our Mother's breast,
And closer than our Mother's arm, 
Is here the Love that keeps us warm
And broods above our happy next.
Dear Mothers, come: for Heaven is best. 
Unspotted lambs to follow the one Lamb, 
Unspotted doves to wait on the one Dove;
To whom Love saith, 'Be with Me where I am,' 
And lo their answer unto Love is love. 
For tho' I know not any note they know, 
Nor know one word of all their song above,
I know Love speaks to them, and even so 
I know the answer unto Love is love. 

Herod intended to include the Son of God amongst the murdered Babes of Bethlehem. The Daughters of Rachel wept over their little ones and the land streamed with blood; but the tyrant’s policy can do no more: it cannot reach Jesus and its whole plot ends in recruiting an immense army of Martyrs for Heaven. These children were not capable of knowing what an honor it was for them to be made victims for the sake of the Savior of the world; but the very first instant after their immolation, all was revealed to them. God showed here the riches of His mercy: He asks of them but a momentary 
suffering, and that over, they wake up in Abraham’s Bosom: no further trial awaits them, they are in a spotless innocence, and the glory due to a soldier who died to save the life of his Prince belongs eternally to them.  They died for Jesus’ sake; therefore their death was a real Martyrdom, and the Church calls them by the beautiful name of the Flowers of the Martyrs, because of their tender age and their innocence.

The Church proclaims the wisdom of God in disconcerting the impious plans of Herod, and turning the murder of the Innocents into His own glory, by raising them to the dignity of Martyrs of Christ, whose praises they gratefully sing for ever. May this same earth of ours, grown old in wickedness, draw down the Divine Mercy on itself, by the love and honor it gives each year to these sweet Children of Bethlehem, who, like the Dove of Noah’s Ark, could not find whereon to rest their feet.

Mural of Elizabeth and the infant John the Baptist being conducted   to safety by an angel, during the massacre of the Holy Innocents. 
Herod was aware of John’s unusual birth and he wanted him killed, fearing that he could perhaps be the foretold King of the Jews, but Elizabeth hid herself and the infant in the hills. Elizabeth, when she saw her pursuers, began to implore God for their safety, and immediately the hill opened up, and they were hidden in a cave, concealing her and the infant from their pursuers. 

Additionally, eastern traditions hold that the father of John the Baptist, the priest Zacharias, was murdered by Herod's men between the temple and the altar, because he would not divulge the whereabouts of his infant son (Matthew 23,34-35 "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar.") 

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