ST STEPHEN, THE FIRST MARTYR (Feast)
Stephen means “crown.” He was the first Christian to receive the martyr’s crown. He was a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit; and was among the seven deacons elected by the apostles to look after the widows and the poor (Acts 6:5). God worked miracles through him. The enemies of the Church jealous of his wisdom stoned him to death outside Jerusalem. His death was witnessed by Saul who would later be called Paul the Apostle.
First Reading: Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Psalm: 31 R. v. 6a; Gospel: Mt 10:17-22
CHRISTMAS AND MARTYRDOM
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Just yesterday we celebrated the birth of Christ which also marked the beginning of the Christmas octave that would last for eight days, ending on the 1st of January, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Traditionally, the joy of Christmas is continually celebrated till the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. But today, the Church mourns her first martyr. The shadow of the cross falls upon the Christmas crib. But why should this happen? Why should the celebration of Christ’s birth be interrupted by the blood of martyrdom? This is a sign that joy does not take away the existence of suffering and pain. In fact, we see in Christ’s birth something about his death.
Although we celebrate the birth of Christ but this story is not without some hostilities persecutions. Jesus found no place to be born. Herod sought to kill him. And the Holy family had to flee to a foreign country for safety. Jesus was born in a dirty manger and would be killed on an old rugged cross. He was persecuted by Herod at his birth; he would be persecuted and killed by his own people at his death. He was wrapped with a swaddling clothe at birth; he would also be wrapped with it at death. Mary carried him in a manger; Mary would also carry him at the foot of the cross. Jesus was born in a borrowed manger and would be buried in a borrowed tomb.
Can we now see that in the birth of Christ his death was revealed? The martyrdom of Stephen therefore interrupts nothing about the Christmas celebration but only re-echoed the truth revealed in the birth of Christ. Jesus even assured us in the gospel that persecution would come. Christmas celebration or other joyful events cannot take that away. So as we celebrate Christmas, we pray that nothing bad interrupts our joy. But if fate became unkind to us at this time, let us not forget that even Jesus suffered thus. Persecution and suffering would come. And we cannot control when this would happen. Joy does not take away the reality of pain.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith when pain and persecution disrupts our joy. Amen.