In the Octave of Christmas, in which we celebrate with great joy the birthday of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Church celebrates three important days of saints that we should get to know, love, and imitate in their sublime virtues. Remember the Universal Call to Holiness where Jesus states clearly and unequivocally: Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy. This is not a conditional statement but rather an imperative, a command, a moral imperative for all of us to pursue a life of holiness. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta expressed it in these words: “Holiness is not the privilege of the few, but the duty of all.”
Who then are these Christmas saints who challenge us to exit from a life of tepidity, mediocrity, and a half-hearted following of Jesus; who are the model for all saints? This essay will present for your admiration, imitation, and conversion three: Saint Stephen, Saint John the Evangelist, and finally a group of saints that the Church calls The Holy Innocents! We would like to offer you a brief summary of these bright stars who now shine brilliantly in the firmament of heaven—their eternal home and hopefully ours too!
SAINT STEPHEN. His name means Crown. Ironically, his life ended in a way in which he was crowned but not with a royal crown of gold, silver, or diamonds. His life was quickly brought to an end in which Saint Stephen was crowned with stones that crushed his skull, and his soul took flight to heaven.
WHERE TO BE FOUND? We invite you to open up your Bible to the New Testament, to the book written by Saint Luke—the Acts of the Apostles. Turn to chapter 6 and especially chapter 7. Read, meditate, and pray over these two chapters and you will be in awe over the admirable person, strength, wisdom, knowledge, courage, and eloquence of Saint Stephen, known as the Protomartyr—meaning, the first Christian martyr after the death of Jesus.
EXAMPLE OF SAINT STEPHEN. Saint Stephen serves as a brilliant, practical, and wonderful model for us in our life’s circumstances here and now. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the saints serve as powerful intercessors before the throne of God and also serve as brilliant models for all of us to imitate. They are brilliant stars that shine in the firmament of heaven. We are called to lift our gaze to heaven where God abides, but also where His best friends, the saints abide! We would venture to present five virtues in the life of Stephen; may we crown our own lives with these spectacular virtues!
1. He was chosen to be ONE OF THE FIRST DEACONS in the Christian Church. The word Deacon means servant. Therefore, Saint Stephen put into practice the words of Jesus: The Son of man has not come to be served, but to serve and give His life in ransom for many.” May good Saint Stephen motivate us to give our life as a holocaust of service to God and our brothers and sisters in need.
2. FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. The Bible presents Saint Stephen as being filled with the Holy Spirit. Indeed, our sanctity depends essentially in a deep and constant union with the Holy Spirit. Pope Saint John XXIII stated: The saints are the masterpieces of the Holy Spirit.
3. MASTER OF THE WORD OF GOD. Even though Saint Stephen was neither priest nor Bishop, he had a deep knowledge of the Word of God. He opens up his mouth and gives one of the most eloquent Biblical summaries of salvation history—found in Acts Chapter Seven! Most obviously this means that Saint Stephen meditated on the Word of God. He lived the words of Psalm 1: The law of the Lord is their joy; God’s law they study day and night. They are like a tree planted near streams of water that yields its fruit in due season. Its leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:2-3) May the life and person of Saint Stephen motivate us to meditate on the Word of God day and night; may the Word of God be a light and lantern for our steps.
4. COURAGE—FORTITUDE TO THE MAX! Saint Stephen had the courage to denounce forcefully the lies and hypocrisy of many of the religious leaders of his day. He would not remain silent when confronted with evil. His courage was sealed with the shedding of his young and innocent blood by stoning. Through the prayers and life of Saint Stephen may we be filled with zeal for the Truth, be ready and willing to defend the Truth, and if God wills, to even die for the Truth.
5. MERCY AND FORGIVENESS. As the stones descended upon Saint Stephen, crushing his skull, this great man of God forgave his persecutors in imitation of Jesus the Master. His last words were: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this sin against them. (Acts 7:59-60) May Saint Stephen’s prayers encourage us to be merciful, to be willing to pray for and forgive our enemies!
SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST. Now we turn and lift our gaze to the shining firmament of heaven to view and admire one of the most brilliant stars glittering in the heavenly sphere. This is Saint John the Evangelist. His Feast day follows directly that of the great Saint Stephen—December 27.
WHERE TO BE FOUND? Saint John the Evangelist can be found in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as to a limited degree in the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore, the best means by which we can get to know, love, admire, and pray to Saint John the Evangelist is through reading and meditating on the four Gospels, especially the Gospel of John! Bible commentaries are many, but it is best to go to the ultimate source—the Bible, the Gospels, the authentic Word of God!
MODEL OF HOLINESS. As with Saint Stephen, we would like to present five of the most salient virtues of the great Apostle, Saint John the Evangelist. Hopefully, Saint John will become one of your dearest friends and help you on your journey and pilgrimage to heaven!
1. YES TO THE CALL. Jesus called John to follow Him, and John said YES to His call. First John spent an afternoon with Jesus (read John 1); then after the miraculous catch of fish, Jesus said: Follow me and I will make you fishers of men. John left all to follow Jesus. Right now Jesus is calling you! What will be your response???
2. LOVE FOR JESUS: HIS SACRED HEART. At the Last Supper Saint John leaned on, rested on, and heard the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Therefore, Saint John will lead you into the depths of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the ultimate source of love and holiness.
3. FRIENDSHIP WITH JESUS. At the Last Supper Jesus said to the Apostles: I do not call you servants, but friends. The twelve Apostles were the 12 closest friends of Jesus; however, there was an inner circle of intimate friends, just three: Peter, James, and John. Then there were the two best friends: Peter and John. And of the two, the best friend of Jesus was the Beloved disciple—Saint John the Evangelist! Beg fervently to this Best Friend of Jesus that you will understand, accept, cultivate, and cherish a deeper and deeper friendship with Jesus. Indeed, He is the Friend who will never fail you!
4. FAITHFUL TILL THE END. On Calvary, at the foot of the cross, were to be found the three faithful friends, disciples, and lovers of the crucified Lord Jesus: The Blessed Virgin Mary (Mother of Sorrows), the penitent lover of Jesus, Saint Mary Magdalene, and the Beloved and faithful disciple and Apostle, Saint John the Evangelist. These great friends of Jesus will help us to be faithful followers of Jesus—not just fair weather friends!
5. SPIRITUAL SON OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY. Finally, and of paramount importance, is the deep relationship Saint John had with the Blessed Virgin Mary. As Jesus hung in agony on the cross shedding every drop of His Precious Blood, He uttered these words to His Mother Mary and to John the Evangelist: Woman behold thy son; son behold thy Mother. Then the Beloved disciple took her into his home. (Jn. 19) Saint John became the spiritual son of Mary, and from this moment all of us were seen in John to be the sons and daughters of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Indeed, Our Lady is the Mother of God, the Mother of the Church, and the Mother of each and every one of us, in the person of Saint John, and Mary’s entrustment to him!
THE HOLY INNOCENTS. Finally, we arrive at a group of saints that the Church has termed as The Holy Innocents. This group of little children can be found in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Chapter Two!
CONTEXT OF THESE SAINTS: THE HOLY INNOCENTS. Fearful, insecure, nervous, anxious, jealous, and bitter, the wicked King Herod decided with a determined determination to eliminate anybody or any group of individuals who might jeopardize his comfortable and luxurious Kingship. When the Magi departed, Herod sent his soldiers to massacre every male child two years and younger in Bethlehem and all that region so as to secure his sovereignty and dominion.
THE MASSACRE. This resulted in the massacre of many little baby boys two years and younger. Saint Joseph, warned in a dream by an angel, rose in the middle of the night and with Mary and the Infant Jesus fled to Egypt until the death of the wicked King Herod.
LESSONS FROM THE DEATH OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS. Various lessons can be gleaned from the death of these Holy Innocents.
1. We are all called to live a LIFE OF INNOCENCE—to avoid sin, flee from sin, to perceive sin as our mortal enemy number one.
2. INNOCENCE RESTORED. The Sacrament of Baptism communicates innocence to our soul, but it is lost through personal sin. Innocence can be restored by sincere repentance, and a sacramental confession.
3. MURDER OF THE INNOCENT BABIES. The gravest moral tragedy over the past several decades is that of abortion. Indeed, this is the murder of innocent babies who have no means by which to defend themselves. It is incumbent upon us all, as a group as well as individually, to pray, fast, and protest against the slaughter of the Holy Innocents today—that is to say, the babies whose lives are in danger of being massacred through the abominable crime and sin of abortion!
4. VOTING RECORDS AND THE HOLY INNOCENTS. It is our moral and civil duty to vote when the occasion presents itself! We should always take into account as our basic criteria for voting what is termed the non-negotiables! When we say non-negotiable we mean that these are always intrinsically evil and in no time, culture, or circumstance can these be accepted—personally, communally, governmentally, universally! This is to say, that our choice of candidates must be motivated first and foremost by these non-negotiables, which are: Abortion—the killing of the Holy Innocents; Contraception—the wrong way to avoid having children; Euthanasia, the killing of the elderly and infirm (assisted-suicide); Embryonic experimentation (very much akin to abortion); and finally, the acceptance and promotion of homosexuality—which militates against the primary and basic foundation of society, the family. May our future voting be motivated by being the voice of the Holy Innocents who have no voice of their own!
5. OUR OWN DEATHS IN GRACE—INNOCENCE! Saint Alphonsus Liguori states that the grace of all graces is the grace to die in the state of grace! May our meditation on and prayer to the Holy Innocents this Christmas Season be a strong motivation for us to appreciate the grace that communicates innocence from sin—to live in grace and to die innocent of mortal sin. If done, heaven will be our eternal reward and we will be called to praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit with Saint Stephen, Saint John the Evangelist, the Holy Innocents, and all of the angels and saints for ever and ever. Amen.