Posted December 25, 2015 in Advent and Christmas:
The Crib and the Cross

by St. Thomas Becket.

On December 29, 1170, St. Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, suffered martyrdom for refusing to go along with the efforts of King Henry II to seize control of the Church in England. The following is the Christmas homily he preached just four days before his death.

Dear children of God, my sermon this Christmas morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should meditate in your hearts on the deep meaning and mystery of our Masses of Christmas Day.

For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the passion and death of Our Lord. And on this Christmas Day, we do this in celebration of his birth, so that at the same moment we rejoice in his coming for the salvation of men, we offer again to God his body and blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

It was in this same night that has just passed that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will."

At this time of year we celebrate at the same time the birth of Our Lord and his passion and death upon the cross.

Beloved, as the world sees it, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the world will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning, or mourning will be cast out by joy.

So it is only in these our Christmas Mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason.

Now think for a moment about the meaning of this word, "peace." Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced peace when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with war and fear of war?

Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now how Our Lord himself spoke of peace. He said to his disciples, My peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you (Jn 14:27).

Did he mean peace the way we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbors; the barons at peace with the king; the householder counting his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to his children?

Those men, his disciples, knew no such thing. They went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom.

What then did he mean? If you ask that, remember then that he also said, not as the world gives, do I give to you (Jn 14:27). So then, he gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at the same time Our Lord’s birth and death, but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen.

Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately after the day of the birth of Christ?

By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at the same time, in the birth and in the passion of Our Lord, so also, in a smaller way, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs.

We mourn for the sins of the world that has martyred them. We rejoice that another soul is numbered among the saints in heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the saints, for that would be simply to rejoice, and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world is.

A Christian martyrdom is never an accident, for saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a saint, as man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men.

A martyrdom is always the design of God, for his love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to his ways.

It is never the design of men, for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, he who has lost his will in the will of God, and who no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom.


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