26 December – Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr
St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A deacon and a preacher, all we know of him is related in the Acts of the Apostles. While preaching the gospel in the streets, angry Jews who believed his message to be blasphemy dragged him outside the city, and stoned him to death. In the crowd, on the side of the mob, was a man who would later be known as St. Paul.
– Patron Saint Index
Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.
But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.
‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.’
[B]ut the man who stands firm will be saved
The world today is plagued with many versions of how events in the world can be interpreted. The introduction of many forms of news media has left us to become more confused and sometimes leads to a distrust of the people around us. The Gospel of today reminds us of the need to stay firm in the Lord Jesus despite the contrasting view presented to us.
St Stephen was the first martyr of the Catholic Church. He firmly believed in the Lord Jesus and was prepared to give up his life for his belief. The crowd was not willing to be open to reason, to see his point of view when they realised that his point was much stronger than the points they could offer. Perhaps this is already indicative of the situation we see in our lives today – where when the truth hurts, people will attack the person.
Whilst today’s feast may be a historical event to some, it is a reminder that to be Christian means to suffer. In the season of Christmas, Christians are reminded that the birth of Christ marks the beginning of a lifetime of adhering to the faith of God come what may. As we wish each other Blessed Christmas in this season of Christmas, let us remember to stay firm in our faith and not let the secular world diminish the value of Christmas to another civic holiday.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Nicholas Chia)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for the strength to stay firm in spite of all persecution.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who hold on to the faith despite persecution.