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.’
Do not worry… the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you
Many may see Boxing Day as a day of continued Christmas festivities — to indulge in post-Christmas sales, merrymaking and feasting and, depending on one’s age and alcohol tolerance, to recover from hangovers. Work in the office grinds to a standstill as many take this lull period to catch a breather before the New Year begins.
As Christians, we commemorate the Feast Day of St Stephen, the first Martyr of the Church. Today’s readings seem to be a sombre contrast to those in the week leading up to Christmas. The earlier readings invoke an eager anticipation of the coming of the Chosen One. Today, however, we are reminded that Christianity is, above all, a calling to stand up for our faith, even if it means suffering for what we believe in. As followers of Christ, we are called not just to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus but, like St Stephen, to imitate His life, even in death.
I left my job with a Catholic charity earlier this year after much discernment. After a period of ‘waiting on the Lord’ and expecting a radical life change, I found myself led into a middle-management position in a large secular organisation. An anti-climax to say the least – I had hoped to go into theological studies or missionary work and, despite knocking on many doors, nothing came to fruition. To me, leaving the corporate sector for a charity was a significant step in dying to my pride and self-centredness; returning to the corporate sector felt like a regression in my faith journey.
It occurred to me one morning that perhaps the marketplace is where God intends me to be. This meant putting to rest my self-indulgent and grandiose aspirations of running off to change the world ‘out there’ (and hopefully dying a martyr’s death). Instead, I am called to use my abilities to make a difference in the workplace I occupy, in the here and now. As I ease into my new role, I am cognisant that certain projects and personalities need to be navigated with care. Perhaps this is my training ground to live out my identity as a Christian in the marketplace, trusting that God will be speaking in me and acting through me to fulfil His greater plan.
As we celebrate the Feast of St Stephen today, let us stay rooted in our faith and fix our eyes on God, especially when we experience turbulence or opposition.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Stephanie Seet)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for fortitude and faith to respond to Your call, wherever it may lead us.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Jesus and the saints who, through their lives and deaths, show us how to be true apostles. Grant that we may stay true to our faith and follow in their footsteps.