I had thought that Saint Stephen, one of the first seven deacons, was the first martyr who was killed for witnessing to Christ. His feast day is the day after Christmas.
On my way to Mass this morning December 28, I realized that it was the hundreds of babies put to death by Herod who were the very first martyrs killed in place of and on account of the Baby Jesus.
The Church's Book of Martyrology lists a lot more Christians from the early centuries who willingly offered their lives for their faith in the Lord Jesus. Many more are being added as saints are declared so through canonization, like the Philippines' own Lorenzo Ruiz and Pedro Calungsod. The thousands of Christians who were put to death by radical ISIS Muslims for refusing to deny their Christian Faith have been given the crown of glory by the Lord and are listed among the martyrs whether or not formally canonized.
Not only martyrs can be saints, but each of us can be martyrs as we go through daily life, especially in this day and age, in different ways.
The persecution of Christ's Church and Christians continues in this modern age, though mostly in non-physically violent ways, but still in equally violent vitriolic and hateful words.
The Holy Innocents witnessed to Christ, without saying a word, while St. Stephen did it by speaking and offering his life after undergoing torture.
We can follow the Holy Innocents example, and also St. Stephen, by speaking out in the public fora, if we can, or by quietly manifesting our Faith by little Christ-like actions in our lives, such as little acts of kindness and big acts of forgiveness and love, especially when it is difficult to forgive and to love, like enemies. These are little acts of "dying."
The prayer for the Mass of the Holy Innocents says:
"O God, whose praise the martyred Innocents this day proclaimed not by speaking but by dying, put to death all vices within us, that Thy faith which our tongues profess, our lives also by their actions may declare."
Hate kills. Hate is against God. As the main actor, Jean Valjean, said in His last line in the musical "Les Miserables," "To love another person is to see the face of God."#