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(LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Athanasius Schneider – a great friend of LifeSiteNews – said to me a few years ago: “Prepare your children for martyrdom.” Martyrdom? Sounds frightening, and perhaps a little unrealistic for children in the West a few years ago.

But with totalitarianism having sprung up over the last couple of years in North America, Europe and beyond, I now see the foresight in Bishop Schneider’s counsel and have begun in earnest to explain the concept to my children. It may seem a strange topic in the wake of Christmas, but let me show you how it makes perfect sense in light of the little Divine Child of Bethlehem.

No one knows what the future holds. You may live to be 100, or today could be your last day. Beyond that, it seems unlikely that the world is going back to the “old normal” – and do we even want to return to that old normal of abortion, same-sex marriage, pornography, trans children and the uncrowning of Christ as King?

Not that we want the new normal a la Klaus Schwab either. But it increasingly appears that if we want to reach the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart promised by Our Lady of Fatima, “the only way is through” this mess, as Robert Frost would have said. And this shouldn’t be a surprise, as Our Lady of Fatima promised as much when she spoke of the final battle between our Lord and the Reign of Satan, particularly referencing those of us who defend life and family. As Sister Lucia revealed, Our Lady said, “Don’t be afraid, because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will always be fought and opposed in every way, because this is the decisive issue.”

So it looks like suffering is ahead. And even if God were to destroy the wicked and restore Christendom tomorrow, it would still be worth thinking about these things and preparing ourselves and our families to give up everything for Christ. After all, he told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him.

So as Christmas draws to a close and Epiphanytide is with us, let’s recall some of the lessons the Baby Jesus gives us about shedding our blood for Him.

Christmas

It’s true that Christmas is a time of great joy, hope, and light shining in the darkness. But the birth of our divine Savior is marked with suffering, the Cross, and a trail of blood.

In the Gospels, our Lord says:

I am come to cast fire on the earth. And what will I, but that it be kindled? And I have a baptism wherewith I am to be baptized. And how am I straitened until it be accomplished?” (Luke 12:49-50)

Right from the beginning – according to the Church, even in Our Lady’s womb – our Lord thirsted for the Cross. He came to suffer for mankind, to make propitiation on our behalf and to restore us to God. His life was filled with this longing to suffer for us. We all know that it began with the discomfort of the stable – but the sufferings of Christmas don’t end with mere discomfort.

When the Baby Jesus is bound in swaddling clothes and laid in the wooden manger, do we not already see the Suffering Christ, bound by his enemies, and then stretched out on the wooden Cross? When we see him laid in a manger, the feeding trough for brute beasts, can we not hear him saying in the Gospels:

He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood abideth in me: and I in him.” (John 6:58)

Liturgy

And that’s not all. Let’s see the first guests gathered around Christ at Christmas. Not so much the shepherds and the wise men, I mean the mystical guests of the the Cross-Manger of suffering shown to us in the Church’s liturgy, in the days after Christmas.

On the 26th, we saw St. Stephen the Deacon – the first martyr. Think about that, the first day after Christmas, we celebrated the feast of the first martyr, the first witness who shed his blood for Christ.

Who on the 27th? Who else but St. John, the Beloved Disciple? While Divine Wisdom did not give him the Crown and Palm of Martyrdom, he was a martyr in his will: he was scourged and thrown in a cauldron of boiling oil before the Latin Gate in Rome. He was miraculously preserved – but on his part, he accepted this as a martyrdom, and willed to shed his blood for Christ.

Then on the 28th we were met by the Holy Innocents, who shed their blood in place of Christ. We all know of Herod the Tyrant who killed all the baby boys in his rage against our Newborn King. They too are treated as martyrs by the Church, who sings of these sweet little infants playing with their martyrs’ crowns and palms beneath the Altar of God.

Is that all? No! On the 29th, we were met by St. Thomas Becket of Canterbury, who was killed in his own Cathedral. He too was a martyr: While the others shed their blood for Christ, St. Thomas shed it for Christ and his Holy Church, defending her liberty against state interference with her life and mission. What would he say today, when so many of our supposed shepherds meekly obeyed the state in the lockdown, closing their doors then, and going along with this or that immoral diktat now?

What is the Baby Jesus teaching us, through his Church, about martyrdom? It is a gift that he bestows on those whom He loves. He loves his martyrs: He wants them to surround his crib, and He wants to hold them close to himself. These martyrs comfort him on his hard wooden crib – and surely the thought of their love comforted him as He hung on the hard wooden Cross. The crown of martyrdom is no curse, but a great grace, conforming those whom God chooses to their divine Savior.

Precious Blood and Myrrh

Eight days after this Savior was born – the octave day of Christmas – we saw the feast of his Circumcision. These few drops of his Precious Blood, of infinite value; this quick, sharp suffering; this would have been enough to save man – but the Christ-Child wants to shed all of his precious blood for us. And so he offers these first drops “merely” as a pledge of His love and a promise of our redemption.

This pledge is a token of all that does for us. What have we done for Christ? What are we doing for Him? What ought we do for Him? Martyrdom is a grace that would allow us to give our whole selves for Him.

We see His pledge again in Epiphanytide, when we recall the three gifts brought by the Magi. This Baby Jesus is given Gold as a King, and Frankincense as a Divine Priest. But he is given myrrh because he is a Prophet and a Sacrifice, even as a baby.

“Myrrh is mine,” sings Balthasar in the carol, “its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying – sealed in a stone-cold tomb.”

This precious resin was used for burials, and indeed Nicodemus bought 100 pounds of it and of aloes for Christ’s burial. Did Our Lady and St. Joseph recognize the bitterness of this gift? We can be sure that the Christ-Child knew what it meant.

So even the Magi’s gifts, and the Epiphany, are marked with blood, calling us to mingle ours with Christ’s.

Remission of sins

Pious Catholic parents of old could often be heard telling their children about the glorious martyrs and even the crown of martyrdom as a ticket straight to heaven and avoiding the sufferings of purgatory and a particular glory in heaven. Some may dismiss that as pious legend, but the doctors of the Church uphold it. St. Thomas Aquinas writes that “Pain suffered in this life voluntarily cleanses much more than pain inflicted after death” in Purgatory.

Why is this? He quotes St. Augustine, “If anything needing to be cleansed be found in [those martyrs], it is cut off by the sickle of suffering.” St. Augustine even says that it would be insulting to pray for the repose of the souls of martyrs.

And let’s remember too that “martyr” means witness. The martyrs’ witness to the love of Christ is the most effective means of spreading the truth of Christ. The third-century writer Tertullian wrote these fierce and fiery words to the Roman Emperor and his government:

Your cruelty, however exquisite, does help you stamp us out. The more often you mow us down, the more in number we grow; for the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.

For who sees our stubbornness in the face of death, without looking into the cause? Who, after this inquiry, does not embrace our doctrine? And when he has embraced it, who does not desire to suffer so that he may share the fullness of God’s grace, and obtain from God complete forgiveness, by giving in exchange his blood? For martyrdom secures the remission of all offenses.

It is for this reason that we return thanks, on the very spot, for your death sentences.”

Conclusions

My dear friends, if the only way is through, or as Churchill rendered it ‘if you’re going through hell then keep going,” let’s not be afraid of martyrdom. Without going out looking for it, or having delusions of grandeur, let’s long for it. Our blood may be the means by which God puts an end to wickedness.

Life is very short, and eternity is very long. Perhaps the sufferings ahead will be fiercer and longer than those of these companions of the Crib. But let’s cleave to God with all of our love. Let’s hope in Him, because we have already been promised that we will not be tried beyond our strength, and that His grace will be sufficient. And after those sufferings, however long they are, the eternal glory and joy of being with God will make them seem very short indeed.

In St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, Christ the King addresses these words to each of us:

It is my will to conquer the whole world and all my enemies, and thus to enter into the glory of my Father. Therefore, whoever wishes to join me in this enterprise must be willing to labour with me, that by following me in suffering, he may follow me in glory.”

Let’s get ready to follow Him, to count martyrdom as a blessing, and long for the Crown and to be counted among that glorious few who shed their blood for and in imitation of our Savior.

The John-Henry Westen Show is available by video on the show’s YouTube channel and right here on my LifeSite blog.

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John-Henry is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews.com. He and his wife Dianne and their eight children live in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario, Canada.

He has spoken at conferences and retreats, and appeared on radio and television throughout North America, Europe and Asia. John-Henry founded the Rome Life Forum an annual strategy meeting for pro-life leaders worldwide. He co-founded Voice of the Family and serves on the executive of the Canadian National March for Life Committee, and the annual National Pro-Life Youth Conference.

He is a consultant to Canada’s largest pro-life organization Campaign Life Coalition, and serves on the executive of the Ontario branch of the organization.  He has run three times for political office in the province of Ontario representing the Family Coalition Party.

John-Henry earned an MA from the University of Toronto in School and Child Clinical Psychology and an Honours BA from York University in Psychology.

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