FEAST OF ST. STEPHEN, FIRST MARTYR

December 26, 2017

Acts 6: 8-10; 7: 54-59

 

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.

 

When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

 

Psalm 31: 3-5, 7-8a, 15b-16

 

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
Take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

 

I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love,
    because you have seen my affliction;
    you have taken heed of my adversities,
and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;

 

 Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
    save me in your steadfast love.

 

Matthew 10: 17-22

 

Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

 

(NRSVCE)

 

Meditation

 

According to the secular world, Christmas is now over. The radio stations are no longer playing Christmas carols, stores are holding sales to clear out their Christmas items, and before long, lights and decorations will begin to be taken down. What was a frenzy of preparation throughout the month of December seems to come and go so quickly, leaving some with a feeling of let-down while others are simply ready to move on to the next occasion.

 

At first blush, it may feel that our readings are doing the same. After all, today’s recounting of St. Stephen’s martyrdom stands in stark contrast to the joyful readings yesterday. Yet for us Catholics, Christmas has just begun, and St. Stephen’s story shows us what Christmas was all about and how to live it all year long.

 

On Christmas Day, God’s Son was born because the world needed a Savior. He healed the sick, ministered to the needs of all, and taught us how to love the Father and bring His Kingdom to Earth. And when He was betrayed by mankind, He took the guilt of our sin upon Himself. He suffered, died, and rose again to open Heaven for us and make it possible to follow in His footsteps and be united with the Father in eternity. St. Stephen gives us a beautiful example of how to live as Christ lived. As one of the first deacons, he played a role of supportive leadership, caring for the poor and ministering to the basic needs of the Church members. He lived Jesus’ mission in his daily life and then, when called into question, he did not hold back the truth, even when it cost him his life. St. Stephen set the example to all the other martyrs who were also called to shed their blood, and his example and intercession led to the conversion of many, including St. Paul. It is fitting that we celebrate him after the birth of Jesus, whom he followed so closely, even entering into eternity with the same words.

 

On this second day of Christmas, take some time to pray for those who are living the mission the way that St. Stephen did. Let us remember ministers who care for Christ’s flock as well as those who are persecuted for their faith around the world. Let us ask St. Stephen to intercede for them and for us, to have the grace to know how we are called to follow Jesus more closely this Christmas season.

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the gifts of your Incarnation, Birth, Passion, Death, and Resurrection. In this Christmas season, help me to live out the call to follow you in every aspect of my life. Show me the ways I need to lay down my own life and live for you, putting others first and having no fear to witness to my faith. Please grant grace and strength also to those who are facing persecution, especially those who will meet you in martyrdom today. St. Stephen, pray for us!

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