Life is the Miracle

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

April 28, 2020

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Today, in Mercy, Acts recounts the sad but inspiring story of Stephen’s martyrdom.

To read an earlier reflection on St. Stephen’s death, click here.


In our Gospel, we continue to pray with John’s Discourse on the Bread of Life.

The setting is Capernaum, on the other side of the lake from where the feeding of the 5000 occurred. Rumors are flying about how Jesus got from one side to the other without a boat. In other words, the air is buzzing with whispers of miracles.


Some bright light in the re-gathering crowd decides to become their representative and inquisitor of Jesus:

inquisitors

“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?
What can you do?
Our ancestors ate manna in the desert … ”
(how about something a long those lines, the questioner seems to imply????)

Where was this guy when the loaves and fishes were pouring out of a single basket? Where was he when Jesus appeared at the lake’s far side, already rested and waiting for the exhausted, arriving crowd?


But Jesus doesn’t take the inquisitor’s bait. He speaks as the Divine Teacher to help them understand that this is about a lot more than signs and miracles. 

Jesus reminds them that any “miracle”, any “manna” should lead us to God, in whose Presence the need and demand for continuing miracles ceases.

Jn6_35 bread

Jesus encourages them to get beyond their limited perceptions of signs, manna, bread, and miracles. He explains that all the Power of God stands before them in him, the Son, the Bread sent “down from heaven, and giving life to the world.”

It’s a lot to take in. But they want to: “Sir, give us this bread always.”


It’s a lot for us to take in too, don’t you think. I know I wouldn’t mind a regular old miracle now and then… a shower of manna or a cure for Covid19!

But instead Jesus asks us to live within the miracle of God’s Presence in all things, in the bread of our ordinary lives which He transforms by love.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Stephen had this kind of radical faith. “Filled with the Holy Spirit”,  he could – even in the throes of human contradiction – “see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

May our faith ever deepen that we too see God in the Bread of our ordinary daily lives. May that faith inspire us to act always with love, hope and mercy.

Music:  I Am the Bread, the Bread of Life – Brian Hoare 

Witness for Christ

Feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr

December 26, 2019

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stephenJPG

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?


 

lock web

 

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.


broken doll

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

Bright with Love

Wednesday of the Third Week of Easter

May 8, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, the inevitable shadow falls over the early Christian community. Stephen is martyred – the first, the proto-martyr of many, down through the centuries, who will die for their faith.

Acts8_2 Stephen

This slaughter of innocence happened at the feet, and at the approbation, of Saul – yet untouched by the glorious grace of Christ.

How the community must have mourned beloved Stephen who, as our hymn describes him, was “bright with Love”:

  • Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5)
  • Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8)
  • All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)
  • Stephen, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God  (Acts 7:8)
  • Stephen, as they were stoning him, called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. ( Acts 7:55)
  • What a treasure of a man! What a devastation to see his young, gracious life crushed by rejection, suffering and pain!

It is so hard to lose our prophets and saints!

I still remember, with great awe, the funeral of our Sister Mary Joanna Regan – one of the graced treasures of the Sisters of Mercy. Our Beloved Community was raw with her loss – as was the larger community of her love and influence.

Joanna’s dear friend, Father John Comey, SJ – now also of beloved memory – preached the sermon at her funeral liturgy. This was his first sentence:

How can such a woman die?

Dear Readers, haven’t we all felt that way in the face of some great loss? Whenever human frailty seems to bend to the powers of death, hatred, or oppression, our souls are crushed. We are astounded that life and goodness seem to yield. So was the early Christian Church when Stephen seemed to fall to hateful hands.

Nevertheless, they believed that there is an eternal life in God beyond that apparent yielding.  They persisted in the ardent work of building up the reign of Christ.

Now those who had been scattered
continued preaching the word. … and
there was great joy in that city.

And the witness of Stephen impelled not only them, but twenty centuries of committed Christians who find their fullness of life in Jesus Christ.

Certainly our Church, with its many recent fractures and falls, needs a resilient, faithful community to lift it up and carry it forward. Let’s pray to St. Stephen today that we may be that community!

(English and Latin canticle today, plus lovely poem after them)

Music:  Sancte Dei, Pretiose  – sung by the Benedictine Monks of St. Michael’s de Laudes

Latin Version
Sancte Dei, pretiose,
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfulsus undique,
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo
Et coronae qua nitescis
Almus sacri nominis,
Nos, qui tibi famulamur,
Fac consortes fieri :
Et expertes dirae mortis
In die Judicii.
Gloria et honor Deo
Qui te flora roseo
Coronavit et locavit
In throno sidereo :
Salvet reos, solvens eos
A mortis aculeo. Amen.

English Version
Saint of God, elect and precious,
Protomartyr Stephen, bright
With thy love of amplest measure,
Shining round thee like a light;
Who to God commendest, dying,
Them that did thee all despite.
Glitters now the crown above thee,
Figured in thy honored name:
O that we, who truly love thee.
May have portion in the same;
In the dreadful day of judgment
Fearing neither sin nor shame.
Laud to God, and might, and honor,
Who with flowers of rosy dye
Crowned thy forehead, and hath placed thee
In the starry throne on high:
He direct us, He protect us,
From death’s sting eternally.


Poem: St. Stephen by Malcolm Guite

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,
Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.
They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,
And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.
When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter
He had to pass through that Damascus gate
Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter
As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,
And showed him the same light you saw from heaven
And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;
Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’
But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
Each martyr after you adds to his story,
As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory

Let the Leaves Fall

Tuesday, April 17, 2018: Today, in Mercy, we again pray with Stephen, who echoes the forgiving voice of Jesus as he gives up his life. How could Stephen, how could Jesus, forgive their murderers? In their dying, how could they turn their spirits toward God in love and hope? Jesus and Steven had already given their lives completely to God – throughout all their joyful and sorrowful seasons. When the time came for the leaves to finally fall, their spirits were convinced that God’s life in them would abide.

We face many small deaths in our lives before our final hour. As we learn to let the leaves fall into God’s renewing love and Mercy, we grow more like Jesus. We are filled with the power of God’s freedom and Light. ( The song is not my favorite genre, but it is very powerful, I think.)

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Can Love Survive Without Truth?

Monday, April 16, 2018: Today, in Mercy, we meet Stephen, proto-martyr of the Christian faith. Like Jesus, Stephen is persecuted for his goodness. Like Jesus, Stephen had false witnesses presented against him. How can Love survive in the absence of Truth? And yet, as today’s Gospel assures is, it does. We live in a time that has forgotten the essence and value of truthfulness. We live in a world where some people’s lives are a lie – a pretense of who they truly are as children of God. But our faith calls us to truth, mercy, justice and commitment to Christ’s teachings. May we be inspired by the witness of Stephen and his companions to tell the truth, be the truth, call for truth in others.

Ps119_30