Wednesday: 26 December, 2012 –– Feast of St Stephen, the First Martyr
Acts 6:8–10; 7:54–59 / Matthew 10:17–22
From Joy to Grim Reality
On this second day of Christmas the Church takes us from joy to grim reality as we honor Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Within the hope of God’s Son being born to bring salvation to our world is the ensuing battle with a world that does not want to be saved –– at least not by a God whose salvation brings the message that our own autonomy is what is killing us. We want to be “free”, and anyone or anything that challenges our rebellious hearts is often met with a hostility willing to go all the way to vengeful death.
As we who believe the Good News rejoice in the birth of our Lord, the Church teaches us not to forget what it means to be a believer. Jesus gives a grim warning in today’s Gospel: You will be hated.... because of my name. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a twentieth century German Christian martyred under Hitler, once wrote: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
At the very least we are called to die to our own self will. Desiring our own way creeps in so insidiously. Especially in a culture where comfort and convenience dictate almost every attitude and value, we reflect on Stephen who chose to give full witness –– the root meaning of martyr –– to the Truth of Jesus even though it meant his literal death.
As our culture continues to unravel and secularism becomes more hostile to Christian Faith, we will be in situations where we will need to “die” to the opinions of others. We will be called bigots; Christian love will be seen as most unloving. Some will hate us because of His Name.
Christians in America may soon find harsh economic penalties if we choose faithfulness. This could be explicit fines, or it may be the implication of not being able to practice lucrative jobs that demand compromise with Christian belief (and practice –– the two cannot be separated).
The bottom line: the Church wants us to know that to embrace the Christ Child puts us on the path of St Stephen.
Saint Fulgentius (+533), a bishop of Ruspe (Tunisia, North Africa) and a friend of St Augustine is the source of today’s reading in the Office:
Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King. Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier. Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.... And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.
Lord, give me the strength to follow you.... let your grace enter this day to help me die to myself.... make my life a witness to the reality that you have come and that your salvation is the ultimate reality.