Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The week after Christmas is filled with celebrations of well-known saints.
On the 26th of December, we honored St. Stephen, deacon and martyr, the first Christian to die for the Faith. He was one of the original seven deacons called to serve the needs of the community by assisting priests. At his martyrdom, St. Stephen prayed, “Lord do not hold this sin against them.” St. Stephen was already using Christ as his example in begging forgiveness for those who did him harm (“Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”).
Tomorrow on the 28th, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Innocents. They were the martyred babies slain as King Herod sought the newborn Jesus. These innocent children were baptized in blood. It will be Jesus’ blood which offers us salvation. One can’t help contemplating the continued lawful destruction of the innocent children in our day when we should understand the dignity of human life. Let us pray that minds and hearts be changed to reflect the intrinsic value of innocent life in the laws of our society.
On the 29th of December, we recognize St. Thomas Becket, bishop and martyr. St. Thomas Becket speaks to our modern society as we attempt to defend the rights of the Church and the religious expression constantly under attack by the secularists who want to privatize all religious practices. St. Thomas Becket was slain in the cathedral and his courage inspired the people of England. If you have a few moments, I encourage you to rent “Becket.” An inspiring movie of faith and dedication, it’s a spiritual treat.
On December 30th, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family. This is a reminder of just how important family is, both in our lives and the salvific life of the Church. Family life these days is under attack. We need to be vigilant about marriage and family life and understand just how essential “family” is to our societal well-being and spiritual development. God’s Son was given to a family: a mother, Mary, and a foster father, Joseph, to reflect the unconditional love of God. Let us pray with gratitude to our Lord for the families who helped shape our love and faith.
On the 31st of December, one of the first non-martyred saints is honored: St. Sylvester, a pope who participated in the Council of Nicaea. We pray the creed from Nicaea at all Sundays and holy day Masses. This creed shaped our identity as Christians, firmly establishing our belief in Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. I had an uncle who was named Sylvester. Of course he would take a lot of teasing from all of his nieces and nephews about the famous Sylvester the Cat. But perhaps my grandmother was much more prudent in naming him after a saint whose leadership was so profound in the early Church.
I know that many of you are already saying that I left out today’s feast, December 27th. I purposely left it for last because it is the feast of St. John the Evangelist, the youngest of the apostles and, by his own admission, the one who Jesus loved. St. John the Evangelist was the one apostle who did not abandon Jesus and is often depicted with Mary and the other women, at the foot of the cross. Mary was entrusted to St. John’s care and he is the only apostle to have died from natural causes. Perhaps he was spared martyrdom because St. John suffered with Jesus at the foot of the cross. St. John the Evangelist is the patron of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and our Cathedral is named after him. So, in a sense, today is our feast day celebrating a saint who inspires our devotion to the Lord on so many levels.
In “Butler’s Saint for the Day,” author Paul Burns refers to St. Jerome, the famous scripture scholar of the early Church, who tells us that when St. John was too feeble to preach, he would have himself carried into the assembly and tell his people, “My little children, love one another.” When asked why he would always use the same words, he replied, “Because it is the word of the Lord and if you keep it, you do enough.” On this the feast of St. John the Evangelist, let us follow Christ’s word to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
In His Name,
Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee