This week, we have three significant feast days in a row. First, on December 28, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents. On December 30, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family. And between them, on December 29, we celebrate the Feast of Thomas Becket.
On the Feast of the Holy Innocents, we remember those babies callously ordered to be slaughtered by King Herod. Out of fear, upon hearing of the birth of Christ, he ordered that all males under two be killed. Imagine the anguish those parents faced as the babies were ripped from their arms and their lives. It is truly a parent’s worst nightmare and utterly heartbreaking.
On the Feast of the Holy Family, we contemplate the beauty of family—led by St. Joseph, nurtured by Mary, and lovingly gifted by God with Baby Jesus. In a 2001 Angelus message, St. John Paul II said, “The Redeemer of the world chose the family as the place for his birth and growth, thereby sanctifying this fundamental institution of every society.” The Holy Family should serve as a model for all families.
And in between these two, we celebrate a courageous saint who stood up to a king and who was martyred for his faith. Thomas Becket once said, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” Becket was a brilliant man and a friend of King Henry II. He served as an archdeacon in the diocese of Canterbury and then later chancellor before the king appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. In that position, Thomas stood in opposition to the king, who wanted to usurp the rights of the Catholic Church in England. Thomas refused to go along with the king’s demands and spent several years in exile. When he returned to England, he remained adamant in his protection of Church teaching. In a fit of rage, the king cried, “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest!” Four knights took this as a command and killed Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral.
As I ponder these consecutive feast days, I think about how fitting it is that they are celebrated together. We have a day that causes us to weep for the parents who lost children, a day to celebrate the courageous protector of the Church, and a day to honor the gift of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. In this progression, we see the brokenness of our world in the slaughter of innocents, a brokenness that a saint attempted to overcome, and a brokenness made whole by the birth and subsequent death of Christ. Our Lord and His Holy Family give us the most perfect example of what we should strive for in our families and in our lives.
This is vital because, as we look around our world today and at the atrocities committed by people who have no respect for life or for the Church, we must remember the terrible tragedy of the innocents, but we know that in Christ’s birth we can overcome all death and evil.
The reality is that the slaughter of innocents happens every day in our country. Babies are torn apart under the guise of “reproductive freedom,” and the sick and elderly are discarded and killed under the guise of “compassionate care.” These innocent and vulnerable people are today’s threats to those in power. They are unwanted, unloved, and dismissed often out of fear—fear for a lifestyle lost, fear of the unknown, and a fear of suffering. Our woke culture teaches that this slaughter is acceptable, even preferred in some cases. And it has become so deeply ingrained in the beliefs of young people that those in the so-called Generation Z are so traumatized by the Dobbs decision that they have threatened to leave their current states or even the country. This fear of an inability to kill a preborn child makes no sense to those of us who understand the sanctity of life. That is why we need the example of saints like Thomas Becket. He exemplifies the courage we need to stand up for Church teaching, even when those in power attempt to pervert this teaching.
And we then look to Christ and His earthy parents as models for how to live our lives and as models for how to raise children to stand up for their faith, no matter how difficult it is. This is no easy task, but it’s one we must find the courage for.
So as we embark on a new year, let us look to our broken past with the knowledge that evil exists in our world but also with the confidence that Christ overcame this evil and that it will never have the last word. Until then, we must live as St. Thomas Becket lived and be ready to embrace even death “for the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church.”
If we are to live for eternity with Christ in heaven, there can be no other way.
This article first appeared in the Catholic World Report at catholicworldreport.com/2022/12/27/three-upcoming-feast-days-teach-us-courage.