Wednesday, December 26, 2018

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The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen
Representation of St. Stephen from The Demidoff Altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli, an Italian Renaissance painter of the late fifteenth century. This many-panelled altarpiece or polyptic painted by Crivelli in 1476, sat on the high altar of the church of San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno, east central Italy. It is now in the National Gallery in London, England.

 

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr for the Christian faith. 

The commemoration and readings are a drastic turn from singing angels and worshiping shepherds.The Liturgy moves quickly from welcoming a cooing baby to weeping at the death of innocence. Why?

One thought might be to keep us practical and focused on what life in Christ truly means.

Stephen, like Jesus, “was filled with grace and power, … working great wonders and signs among the people.” He, as Jesus would, met vicious resistance to his message of love and reconciliation. He, as Jesus would, died a martyr’s death while forgiving his enemies.

The Church turns us to the stark truth for anyone who lets Christ truly be born in their hearts. WE will suffer as Jesus did – as Stephen did. The grace and power of Christ in our life will be met with resistance, or at least indifference.

We may not shed blood but, in Christ, we will die to self. When we act for justice for the poor and mercy for the suffering, we will be politically frustrated and persecuted. When we forgive rather than hate, we will be mocked. Powerful people, like the yet unconverted Saul in today’s second reading, may catalyze our suffering by their determined hard-heartedness.

Our Gospel confirms the painful truth:

“You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

Tomorrow, the liturgy picks up the poetic readings from John’s letters. These are delights to the soul. 

But for today, it is a hard look, with Stephen, at what Christmas ultimately invites us to.

Music: Gabriel’s Oboe from the movie “The Mission”, played by Henrik Chaim Goldschmidt,  principal oboist of The Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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