Saint Thomas, son of an English nobleman, Gilbert Becket, was born on the day consecrated to the memory of Saint Thomas the Apostle, December 21, 1117, in Southwark, England. He was endowed by both nature and grace with gifts recommending him to his fellow men; and his father, certain he would one day be a great servant of Christ, confided his education to a monastery. His first employment was in the government of the London police. There he was obliged to learn the various rights of the Church and of the secular arm, but already he saw so many injustices imposed upon the clergy that he preferred to leave that employment rather than to participate in iniquity. He was perfectly chaste and truthful, and no snares could cause to waver his hatred for any form of covert action.
Martyrs at the time of the Nativity of Our Lord (†1 A.D.)
The wily king Herod, who was reigning in Judea at the time of the birth of Our Saviour, learned from three Wise Men from the East that they had come to Jerusalem, advised by a star in the heavens, in search of the newborn King of the Jews. Herod’s superstitious fear of losing his throne was awakened, and he grew troubled. He called together the chief priests, questioned them, and learned from them that the awaited Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David. He said to the strangers: When you have found Him, bring me word, that I too may go and adore Him.
The star which had guided the Magi re-appeared over Bethlehem, and they found the Infant and adored Him, and offered Him their royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, recognizing by these His perfect Divinity, His royalty, and His prophesied sufferings. God warned them in a dream afterwards not to go back to Herod, and they returned to their lands, rejoicing, by a different route. Saint Joseph, too, was warned during his sleep by an Angel to take the Child and His Mother and flee into Egypt, for Herod will seek the life of the Infant.
When Herod realized that the Wise Men would not return, he was furious, and in his rage ordered that every male child in Bethlehem and its vicinity, of the age of two years or less, be slain. These innocent victims were the flowers and first-fruits of the Saviour’s legions of martyrs; they triumphed over the world without having ever known it or experienced its dangers.
Reflection: That the Holy Innocents may be invoked to be preserved from illusion is the Church’s belief. Herod’s illusion of threat from the newborn King cost their lives… How few, perhaps, of these innocent little ones, if they had lived, would have escaped the dangers of the world! From what snares, what sins, what miseries were they preserved! Surely they rejoice now in their fate. We often lament, as misfortunes, many accidents which in the designs of Heaven are the greatest mercies.
The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources, by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).
The Admiration & Tenderness of Our Lady for Her Newborn Son
At Christmas, it is natural that our attention is turned toward the feast of the Birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ. This was the occasion when, in the most elevated degree, the love of a creature was manifested for God, the Creator – the affection of the heavenly Mother for her one and incomparable Son.
As Our Lady is the model of humility par excellence she did not approach the Divine Savior without having manifested all the respect and all the admiration that He merits. As the most exquisite creature of Creation, she could not help but take this humble position before the Savior. Being infinitely below the Creator, even though she is the highest creature, she directed herself to Our Lord as if she were the least of His creatures.
Saint John, brother of Saint James the Greater, the Apostle of Spain, is the beloved disciple. He was privileged, with his brother and Saint Peter, to behold the Saviour raise up a dead child to life, then saw Him transfigured on the mountaintop; he alone reposed his head on His breast at the Last Supper. After the crucifixion it is he who, with Saint Peter, hastened to the empty tomb on the morning of the Resurrection. Standing beside Mary at the Cross, he had heard his Master confide that Blessed Mother to him to be henceforth his Mother also. He took his precious treasure for refuge to Ephesus when the persecution of the Jerusalem Christians became too intense; and from there he went out to evangelize Asia Minor, of which he became the first Archbishop. He was later exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, but afterwards returned to Ephesus.
Compared with an eagle by his flights of elevated contemplation, Saint John is the supreme Doctor of the Divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Endowed with an astounding memory, he was able even in his later years, to reproduce the discourses of Christ in such a way as to make the reader experience their power and impact on their audiences as if present to hear them. He is the author of five books of the New Testament, his Gospel, three Epistles, and the last canonical prophecy, the Apocalypse or Revelation of Saint John — all of which were composed after the ruin of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia, and Saint Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: My dear children, love one another.
Saint John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan, that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, Saint John then being about ninety-four years old, according to Saint Epiphanus.
Reflection: Saint John is a living proof of Our Lord’s beatitude: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
The New Testament: Acts of the Apostles; Heavenly Friends, by Rosalie M. Levy (St. Paul: Boston, 1958).
INTROIT For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night came was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty Word, O Lord, down from heaven, from Thy royal throne (Wis. 18:14-15). The Lord hath reigned, he is clothed with beauty: the Lord is clothed with strength, and hath girded himself (Ps. 92:1). Glory be to the Father.
COLLECT Almighty and everlasting God, direct our actions according to Thy good pleasure; that in the name of Thy beloved Son we may deserve to abound in good works. Through our Lord.