Dec 26 – 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 is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.
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.’
“but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
In the face of all that is going on in the world today, is it any wonder that people continue to question the existence of God? Death, murder, unspeakable sins being committed against women and children, the innocent slaughter of refugees…and so much more. Perhaps St Stephen, being firm in faith and with the Spirit in him, was doing precisely that – speaking out against the injustices of the day.
How many of us can say in this day and age that we are really ready to stand up against the tide and to speak up, without fear of shame, ridicule or even death? With same sex marriage being legalised in more countries and abortion (a form of murder) being condoned in even more, how are we ever going to bring up the next generation of Catholics to be truly firm and rooted in faith? What is it going to take for this generation to understand that the time to make a stand is now, before we all get swept away by the trappings of the material world?
I recently spent time with a few friends who were open enough to share their past (and current) struggles. It made me realise how fortitude is always absent as we are facing challenges head-on; but, in hindsight, it is precisely that which enables us to endure what life throws at us. Our God is truly an awesome God He will never let us down…as long as we choose the right path and do not grumble about our daily struggles.
Brothers and sisters, at the end of the day, what we crave most is time to ourselves. To just ‘chill out’ and alow God to heal or nourish us. But to arrive at that juncture in life, He asks that we have the fortitude to go through whatever we are going through now and to realise that, on our own strength, we are powerless.
So by knowing this, how are we, as children of God, going to realise that at many times in our life, He has been there – gently placing the crosses on our shoulders so that we learn about fortitude.
(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask you to always bless us with patience, understanding and wisdom so that we can live our lives according to your call.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gifts which He so generously bestows upon us.