Feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr
December 26, 2019
Today, in Mercy, we celebrate St. Stephen, the first martyr for the Christian Faith. Martyrdom is a somber distance from the comforting angels and kindly stars of Christmas. But I think there’s a reason our liturgy places its hard reality here.
The story surrounding Stephen’s death reveals his beautiful soul. These are some of words describing Stephen:
- filled with grace and power
- working great wonders and signs
- speaking with wisdom and spirit
- filled with the Holy Spirit
Why would anyone want to kill such a man!
It is a question which resounds down the centuries following Stephen.
Why is innocence persecuted?
Why is faith opposed?
Why is goodness crushed?
Why is freedom strangled?
Why is love for neighbor so frightening?
Our reading from Acts exposes an “infuriated” crowd, burning with anger at Stephen. Why? How had he injured them?
The human heart can become so fixed in its securities, can’t it? Sometimes we build walled worlds where we are always right, first, best, strongest, and smartest. Smarter than anybody!
These oppressive little worlds are places where for me to be right, you must be wrong. For me to be first, you must be at least second, if not last. For me to be strong, you must be weak. If we live in such a crippling world, a challenge to listen and change is earth-shattering to our fearful, manufactured security.
Christ came to free us all from needing such worlds. Omnipotent Mercy chose to be born in utter vulnerability and poverty. Christmas was our first lesson on how to live in a world secured only by Grace. Stephen’s story, following so close upon Christmas, drives home the consequences of such a faith-filled life.
Rather than right, first, best, strongest and smartest, the invitation of Christ is to be open, humble, generous, courageous, wise. Stephen’s debaters didn’t like that invitation. His faithful conviction was so true that they could offer no argument against it to defend their walled-in lives. So they killed him.
All over our planet, we see innocent life crushed by war, trafficking, economic subjugation, prejudice, divisiveness, irrational hatred, and soulless indifference. We see both small and large tyrannies enacted on the global political stage, in business, in the Church, in schools and in families.
The witness of Stephen, first martyr, inspires us to live a life so open to the Holy Spirit that we may stand up strong and, like him, “see the glory of God and Jesus” even through the shadows of a sinful world.
Music: I Will Stand As a Witness for Christ – Sally DeFord