Photo of the altar inside St. Stephens Church, Assisi, Italy
The day after Christmas is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. This reminds us that the joy of Christmas is not unmixed with a certain sorrow. As the Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, also reminds us that the coming of Christ was the greatest possible joy because God was with us, but it also meant that those who would bear witness to the arrival of Christ would be scourged, imprisoned and killed.
The story of the Holy Innocents is as follows, told by Franciscan Media:
Herod “the Great,” king of Judea, was unpopular with his people because of his connections with the Romans and his religious indifference. Hence he was insecure and fearful of any threat to his throne. He was a master politician and a tyrant capable of extreme brutality. He killed his wife, his brother, and his sister’s two husbands, to name only a few.
Matthew 2:1-18 tells this story: Herod was “greatly troubled” when astrologers from the east came asking the whereabouts of “the newborn king of the Jews,” whose star they had seen. They were told that the Jewish Scriptures named Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. Herod cunningly told them to report back to him so that he could also “do him homage.” They found Jesus, offered him their gifts, and warned by an angel, avoided Herod on their way home. Jesus escaped to Egypt.
Herod became furious and “ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under.” The horror of the massacre and the devastation of the mothers and fathers led Matthew to quote Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children…” (Matthew 2:18). Rachel was the wife of Jacob (Israel). She is pictured as weeping at the place where the Israelites were herded together by the conquering Assyrians for their march into captivity.
During our Christmas Pilgrimage, on the morning of December 26, we attend Mass at the Church of St. Stephen, an ancient stone chapel where the Bishop of Assisi, Domenico Sorrentino will celebrate. Bishop Sorrentino is famous for opening a new shrine in Assisi on the spot where St. Francis gave back all he possessed to his father, including his clothes. The bishop of Assisi at the time gave the naked Francis a simple garment to wear and welcomed him into the protection of mother Church. Bishop Sorrentino will greet our pilgrims and reflect on this decisive moment in the life of St. Francis — the decision to live the Gospel “sine glossa” (“without exception”). Following the footsteps of Christ poor and crucified was for Francis the norm that determined every choice of his life.
Resources: LINK to FranciscanMedia article on Story of the Holy Innocents.
For information about our Christmas 2020 pilgrimage, click HERE.