Starting today, the Church celebrates a Trinitarian festival of love through the feasts of martyrs. Each martyr(s) is unique in the manner in which they died. Martyrs offer their lives through will, love and blood. These feasts of martyrs include:
- 26th: St. Stephen – martyr (red) by will, love and blood
- 27th: St. John the Divine – martyr (white) by will and love
- 28th: Holy Innocents – martyrs (red) by blood
Why celebrate the martyrs immediately after Christmas? Good question. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) speaks of a short clown allegory that I believe is fitting to help us understand:
It happened in a theatre that the coulisses caught fire. The Clown was sent to inform the public. It took this as a joke and applauded; he repeated; they jubilated even more. Thus I think that the World will perish under general jubilation from witty heads believing that it is a witticism. (Either/Or, Vol. 1)
Cardinal Ratzinger used this allegory at the beginning of his book, Introduction to Christianity, p.94:
To meet the challenge of Christian belief head on, without watering down or making it seem more ‘reasonable.’
He wants the world to understand that Catholic-Christians, and especially her clergy are not fancy-looking clowns. When one looks at the themes in his writings, we see that he is truly concerned with the problem of relativism. He seems to see this as the core of the modern plight. In fact, in his homily that began the papal conclave after the passing of Pope John II of happy memory, he shared his concern that the next pontiff would need to address this issue head-on. His homiletic exposition, complete with a snappy tagline i.e., dictatorship of relativism, was expressed this way:
Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism – that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there carried about by every wind of doctrine” – seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times, We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires (The Holy See, Homily of His Eminence Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: Mass ‘Pro Eligendo Romano Pontifice,’).
John L. Allen, Jr. interviewed Cardinal Francis George following a press conference at North American College the day after the papal election (Jankunas, The Dictatorship of Relativism, p.vii). When asked about the homily, Allen says that Cardinal George made a historical comparison between Popes John II and Benedict XVI saying:
There was a fault line in the Soviet empire that brought it down….It’s concern for social justice was corrupted by the suppression of freedom…in the West, there’s also a fault line between concern for personal freedom and the abandonment of objective truth. (Allen, The Rise of Benedict XVI, p.166)
These feasts are so important to us because the witness of blood and love which are all based on the objective truth that Jesus is the Lord – even for those who did not actively choose the Christ. Closer to home, they are witnesses to the modern need to live less interested in ourselves and more interested in living a life that is uncompromising in every respect.
I also cannot help but mention that today is also the feast of St.Stephen the Proto-martyr. For deacons, especially permanent deacons, today is the institution of our ministry in blood. It also set in history the tone for our ministry. In fact, the restoration in the West is closely linked to being a visible witness to the gospel in the marketplace.
To all my brother deacons, Happy Feast Day!!! May we proclaim the gospel “worthily and well” and be a witness (preferably without blood) to the objective truth that Jesus Christ, incarnate of the Virgin Mary, is Lord.