SATURDAY HOMILY: Christmas and the Cross
But this does not mean that the darkness will give up without a fight. The evil one is a poor loser. In the Gospel we are told that when one of Satan's infernal cohorts was commanded by the Lord Jesus to leave a boy who was possessed, the demon did so kicking and screaming, as it were, causing the poor youngster to be convulsed and violently thrown about before he was finally set free (St. Mark 9:26).
The devil is indeed a very poor loser.
Holy Mother Church subtly reminds us of this fact with the commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Stephen on December 26. As soon as Christmas day is over, the joy and serenity occasioned by Jesus' birth is shattered with the announcement of the murder of this holy servant of God.
But what must have appeared as a victory for evil proved to be a great defeat. Present at the martyrdom of Stephen was Saul of Tarsus who watched approvingly as the Church's proto-martyr was stoned to death. In relatively short order, however, the future St. Paul would meet Jesus on the road to Damascus and the rest is history.
The feast of John the Evangelist follows the feast of Stephen. John, the youngest of the apostles and the last to die was the only apostle to succumb to old age. All the others were martyred. But this was not for lack of trying on the part of the devil. He inspired evil men to do away with St. John by throwing him into a cauldron of boiling oil. The apostle miraculously escaped unscathed not unlike the three children in the fiery furnace about whom we read in the Old Testament Book of Daniel.
Then comes the Feast of the Holy Innocents. These are the baby boy martyrs of Bethlehem and the surrounding environs whose lives were snuffed out by the order of a wicked politician, Herod the Great. They now reign in glory. We can only tremble at the thought of what very likely was the eternal outcome of the life of a man who served Satan so well.
Today we commemorate yet another martyr in this octave of Christmas, namely, St. Thomas Becket. He was the good friend of King Henry II and loyally served him as chancellor. Then Henry II connivingly appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury with the thought that his longtime friend would aid him in his disputes against the Church.
Upon his consecration as archbishop, however, Thomas underwent a deep conversion. Tennyson rightly put these words on the lips of Becket: "I served King Henry well as Chancellor: I am his no more, and I must serve the Church." He was eventually murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on this day in 1170 on orders from the King because Becket would not cede the rights of the Church to the unjust demands of the monarch.
Today's Gospel recounts for us the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the temple. The old man Simeon, responding to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, goes to the temple and there joyfully encounters the child and His parents. He takes the Infant Jesus into His arms and offers a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. He can finally leave this world in peace. He has seen the promised Messiah.
Then suddenly the shadow of the cross is cast over the brightness and glory of this divine encounter. Simeon turns to Our Lady and speaks these solemn words:
"Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce ."
In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: the Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI, in commenting on the Gospel of today's Mass, writes: "The theology of glory is inseparably linked with the theology of the Cross" (p. 85).
He is destined for the fall and rise of many. Sooner or later everyone will have to make a decision about this Jesus. Ultimately, everyone will have to give an answer to the question, "Who do you say that I am?" At one point or another everyone will have to make a choice to accept Him or reject Him, to love Him or hate Him.
He is a sign that will be contradicted. Jesus will be opposed. So it was then. So it is now. "We are not talking about the past here," writes Pope Benedict. "God, with his truth, stands in opposition to man's manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride" (p. 86).
The lessons of the Octave of Christmas should teach us not to be surprised when in our own day God and His Christ are mocked and vilified. We should not be caught off guard when we see Christ's Church viciously opposed by wicked politicians who want more than anything to silence the Catholic Church.
Henry II gave orders to eliminate St. Thomas Becket because he stood in opposition to the King's "manifold lies, his self-seeking and his pride." In a hauntingly similar way, the Obama administration is bent on relegating the Church (and other people of faith) to the margins of society in order to muzzle the Church's voice, the voice of God in the world.
They will do this, not with daggers, but with diktats (e.g., the HHS mandate) and with unjust laws (e.g., Obama Care). This, in fact, they must do if they are going to succeed in advancing their self-serving agenda which views human beings, born and unborn, young and old, rich and poor, as expendable commodities.
In this Christmas season, in this time of great hope and joy, let us allow ourselves to be bolstered by the example of the Martyrs and Saints whose feast days we celebrate. Let us beg God for the grace to stand boldly with Christ and His Church against those who would harm Her and against those who prey upon the most defenseless and vulnerable in our midst. Let us turn in a special way to the Saint of the day, Thomas Becket, and savor the words of the Collect of today's Mass:
O God, who gave the Martyr Saint Thomas Becket the courage to give up his life for the sake of justice, grant, through his intercession, that, renouncing our life for the sake of Christ in this world, we may find it in heaven.
And may the Immaculate Virgin Mary, the patroness of this great nation and the Queen of Martyrs, intercede for us.
Fr. G. Peter Irving III is a priest of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and is pastor of Holy Innocents Catholic Church, Long Beach, California.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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