Christmas greetings to one and all! I pray your Advent blessed your days and prepared you for the great grace that awaits you during this Christmas season.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church and its first Martyr – a man of conviction and character.
There are a couple of things I always think of on this feast day…
The first thing I think of is the reality of being a martyr. I read that yesterday in Baghdad, on Christmas Day, bomb attacks killed 37 Christians in 2 separate bombings. Why? How could someone do that? I will never, ever, ever understand.
As an American, I cannot comprehend going to Mass and risking death. It holds no realm of possibility in my mind. Yet, every day in many places throughout the world, faithful Christian men, women, and children risk death for their belief in Jesus.
I went on retreat one time with a women from the Ukraine. She was younger than I, and she had an 8 year old son at the time. She found her faith here in the United States where she is free to worship. She told me that in Ukraine, religion was “for the old people.” Young people just didn’t participate. She told me about family members and neighbors being afraid because the government was always listening, and that when the government knew, they would retaliate in some way on the faithful. She still cannot believe how blessed we are in this country to pray and worship without constraint or repercussion, and she gets angry at Americans who take it for granted.
If St. Stephen did not see Jesus’ crucifixion firsthand, he heard of it from eyewitnesses. He had to know that his fate may end in the same way. Nonetheless, his life was so changed by his belief in Jesus that “Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people.”
For what he did, he died.
The second thing I think of is his courage and eloquence in the face of the intimidation of the elite of his community. We’ve all been there. Maybe you were there yesterday with a friend or relative trying to find the words to bring someone closer to an understanding of your faith in Jesus. Maybe hitting the mark. Maybe falling short. “Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” (Acts 6:8-10)
Undaunted, unafraid, convicted of the mission given him by God, Stephen boldly witnessed to the love of Christ in a way that silenced his critics.
For what he said, he died.
Are we capable of the same?
St. Stephen, pray for us! Anne