"The Church presents to us the 'first fruits' of these 'true Christians,' those who by their works, and even by their death, having sung the glory of the Redeemer. We see them in the retinue of the divine Child, like angels on earth, who unite their hymn to that of the angels in heaven."
As St. Bernard observed, these three feasts depict the type of sanctity paid homage to the newborn King: a martyr in will and in deed (St. Stephen), a martyr in will only (St. John), and martyrs in deed only (the Holy Innocents). For the Christian, these saints exemplify the desire of martyrdom we should foster in our souls: the desire to die for the faith either by shedding our blood if our Lord so desires, but also the daily death to one's will and desire to conform perfectly to the will of God.
"Yesterday our King, clothed in a robe of flesh, came forth from a virginal womb and deigned to visit this earth; today a soldier leaving the tabernacle of the body, departs as a conqueror for heaven ... Yesterday Christ was wrapped for us in swaddling clothes; today blessed Stephen is clothed by Him with a stole of immortality ... to obtain the crown which is signified by his name, St. Stephen was armed with charity and by it conquered all obstacles. Because of his love of God he fled not from the cruel Jews; because of his love of neighbor he prayed for those who were stoning him ... in charity he prayed for his executors that they would not be punished. [Today] the One descended, veiled in flesh; the other ascended laureled in blood." (Dr. Pius Parsch)
St. John was specially beloved of the Savior for his perfect purity of heart" and it was to him that Jesus willed to entrust His Holy Mother to the one whom he loved so tenderly. Holy Mother Church, in placing the feast of St John so close to Christmas, wishes to honor holy virginity in a special manner. (Jesus the Model of the Religious)
The Holy Innocents (December 28)
"Following the feast of a martyr and the feast of a virgin comes one that combines virginity and martyrdom ... In the Holy Children, the Church sees figures of those elect in whom her highest ideal is fully realized, individuals who both preserved virginity and shed their blood for Christ. These slain infants typified the goal sought after in early Christianity; resplendent with the red of martyrdom and the lily-white of virginity, they form the inner circle of the Lamb's honor-chorus. Thus the feast easily touches practical Christian morality and suggests the liturgical way of applying Christmas to life and conduct." (Dr. Pius Parsch)
Let us embrace, then, the saints that Holy Mother Church gives to us at the beginning of the Christmas octave, for She points to Her saints as the example of how to walk the straight and narrow path to holiness. Let us call upon these saints, asking of them to beg for us the graces we need to embrace the daily, spiritual martyrdom the Christian life demands and to embody the courage and steadfastness in faith martyrdom calls forth.
St. Stephen, St. John the Beloved, and all ye Holy Innocents - orate pro nobis!