The Octave of Christmas is a time of richness and of confrontation. Richness because of the great liturgical and popular tradition that takes us day by day into events and places that deepen our faith in the Christ Child.
The feasts of Stephen, John, Holy Innocents, and the saintly martyr Archbishop Becket, all follow one another in a tumble of carols and remembrance. But these are also days of martyrdom and mass murder.
The Child was laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. These were the clothes in which the Jewish dead would be buried. They were kept in the stable so as not to be within the realm of the living. "His death cast a shadow over His birth, because his death was the reason for His birth."
The martyrs of His octave, the first of the martyrs, Deacon Stephen, the Anglican Archbishop Becket, the host of the Innocents, the children who died for the comfort of a King, the Apostle whose failed martyrdom led to the Apocalyptic exile on Patmos, these are the ones who accompany our Christmas thoughts, and remind us of the cost of following the Child of Bethlehem.
These are appropriate thoughts in this year's Octave when the bishops of our Communion receive their formal response to their petition for communion with the Bishop of Rome and those in communion with him in East and West. To be a splinter is not a virtue, it is an irritant destined to fester. A branch unconnected to the vine withers and corrupts.
Catholic communion is not an idea, nor the acceptance of a set of beliefs. It is standing together at the Altar of God, affirming one faith and receiving together the one Body and Blood of the Christ who is God and brother.
Our bishops have realised from the start of our separation from the Anglican Communion that it was a separation of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage must have a goal. Our goal was the healing of catholic disunity, that Anglicans had sought and then abandoned.
There is great integrity in being a pilgrim. If the destination be holy, God sustains on the journey. We will not be rushed or stampeded. Nor will we falter. So in our waiting as the vision of our destination becomes clearer in the mists of our wandering, let us take clear sight of the martyrs who are our Octave companions. Their echoes are all around us, in the destruction of innocent life, in the failure of episcopal teaching, in the denial of the Christ Child's godliness, in the transformation of love into hate, even within the company of those who bear His Name. The dying Stephen prayed for Saul, and the Church was given Paul, and the world was transformed. These are important days for us, and days that demand that most difficult of prayers. "That we be transformed, so that the Church may transform the world."
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