“Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matthew 10:21-22).
Year after year, I never cease to wonder why the feast of St. Stephen is a day after Christmas. Why are we celebrating a martyr just hours after celebrating the birth of Christ? Our opening prayer at mass answers this question by praying: “Grant Lord, we pray that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray for his persecutors.”
In other words, as we celebrated the birthday of Christ yesterday, we are celebrating the birthday of St. Stephen today. Today’s feast reminds us that we have two birthdays; the day we were born to earthly life and the day we enter heaven.
By the way, why was Stephen stoned to death, what was his offence? His ability to hear from the Holy Spirit and perform miracles. Stephen’s death was fuelled by envy and jealousy, inspired by lies against him from those who could not withstand his superior theological arguments.
The celebration of St. Stephen a day after Christmas is a sharp reminder that there are still many who prefer darkness to light; that there are many who may claim to be Christians yet, still allow jealousy, pride and evil keep them in darkness. In our Gospel passage, Jesus says: “Beware of men…”
Accepting to walk in the footsteps of Christ makes one an endangered species. It is in every sense walking along the narrow path. John tells us: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.” (John 1:10). Just as the world did not know Christ, it doesn’t know those who belong to Christ. As Stephen suffered, we must prepare our minds to carry our cross daily for the sake of Christ.
In our celebration of Christ’s birthday, let today’s feast develop within us a longing to finally attain the bliss of heaven where we shall meet Christ face to face and really celebrate. Over there, the party never ends and the fun is forever. Hence, Jesus says: “He who endures to the end will be saved.”
Finally, as Stephen prayed for his persecutors, we must learn to pray constantly for our enemies. If God sent us His Son Jesus Christ while we were still His enemies, we who are made in His image and likeness ought to be so kind to our enemies. This is what would make our Christmas celebration complete.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to imitate you just like Stephen did. Amen.
Bible Study: Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59, Psalm 31 and Matthew 10:17-22)