Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"on the Feast of Stephen"

Rubens' Stoning of St. Stephen
Today, the day after Christmas day, in the octave of Christmas, we celebrate, not the memorial, but the Feast of St. Stephen. St. Stephen is my patron, even from before my becoming Catholic. My middle name, after my father, is Stephen.

This morning I had the privilege of presiding at a communion service at Holy Family Parish. The readings for this feast are Acts 6,8-10; 7,54-59; Ps 31,3-4.6.8.16-17; Matt. 10,17-22

St. Stephen was the Church's first martyr. We call him our proto-martyr. Martyr finds its origin in the Greek language and means witness, or one who gives witness. Martyr is a noun. It is due to the early Christian martyrs that we now use it as a verb, too. We see in St. Stephen, whose feast has fallen on the day after Christmas from time immemorial, what being a witness on behalf of the babe of Bethlehem can mean and has meant for many Christians from the the beginning of the Church.

St. Stephen is one of the first seven deacons of the Church, a Greek-speaking Jew, like his six fellow deacons, set apart to help keep peace within the early Christian community in Jerusalem. Problems had arisen between Aramaic-speaking and Greek-speaking Jewish Christians.

Our Lord himself predicts that persecution and martrydom will be the fate of many who seek to follow Him, to emulate Him. Indeed, we know that the apostles themselves became martyrs, witnesses to Christ with their blood, with their very lives. Far from being a nihilistic rush toward death, it shows their trust in eternal life, their belief that this life is not all there is, their faith in Christ Jesus. They believed what we hear Jesus say in today's Gospel "whoever endures to the end will be saved" (Matt. 10,22).

In baptism we died with Christ. In light of this, we are called to witness to the Truth, to show others the Way and the Life. This vocation, this call, is worthy of our whole lives.

St. Stephen is also the patron of this very modest blog. So, we implore

St. Stephen, heavenly patron, deacon forever, pray for us now and always as you exercise your diakonia at the throne of the Lamb.

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