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The Feast Of St. Stephen – A Case Of Bad Timing?

“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

One day after the beautiful celebration of Christmas, the Church honors the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.  Talk about bad timing!  Isn’t this supposed to be the season of joy and peace?  Is the Church calendar so crowded that we had to squeeze Stephen in this week?  Wouldn’t he be a better fit during the season of Lent?

In reality, the Church knows exactly what she’s doing and this celebration (and yes, it is a celebration) takes place at the perfect time.  We often  tend to focus on the pleasant aspects of our Catholic Faith and neglect the painful realities that are necessary for followers of Christ.  While most people know that the colors of the Christmas season are red and green, few know the meaning behind those colors.  Green is the color of life and represents the birth of the Savior and the eternal life promised to His followers.  Red, on the other hand, represents suffering and the blood which has been shed for the Faith.  If we compare our lives to a Christmas wreath, we see that the red and the green are intertwined.  If we truly wish to follow the Lord, we must be prepared to suffer in some capacity.

St. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church (Acts 6:1-6) and became to first Christian to be martyred for the Faith (Acts 7:54-60).  What was Stephen’s crime that resulted in his being stoned to death?  He told the people something that they didn’t want to hear!  After relating the story of God’s covenant and the stubbornness of the  Israelites (Acts 7: 1-50), he proceeded to tell his listeners that they were also at fault (Acts 7:51-53).  As a result, they cried out, covered their ears (great way of handling something you don’t want to hear, isn’t it?), and stoned him to death.  As he lay dying, St. Stephen forgave his attackers (Acts 8:60).

In the present age, there are many issues that can cause us to be “martyred”.  Defense of life, condemnation of contraception, loyalty to the Catholic Church and her teachings, refusal to gossip or use foul language, etc.  Any of these things can bring on an attack when proclaimed.  By remaining silent we can sometimes avoid the suffering and backlash that speaking out could send our way.  On the other hand, St. Stephen didn’t care about the consequences.  He accepted the “red” along with the “green”.  He spoke out even though it caused him to suffer and die.

How about you?

“And I tell you, every one who acknowledges me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the the angels of God, but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” (Luke 12:8-9)



The Many Faces Of Martyrdom

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Mt 16:25)

Today, the Church remembers the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church.  These Christians, who were murdered by Nero in the year 64 AD, paid the ultimate price for the Faith.  While it’s important to recognize their heroic contributions, it’s even more important to imitate them.

WHAT?  Be a martyr?  Are you serious?

While we should all be willing to die for our faith if necessary, let’s not forget that there are many ways to be a “martyr”.  Any time we stand up for Jesus and His Catholic Church and are subject to insults, anger, verbal or physical abuse, we are being figuratively “martyred”.  Although it’s not easy, we can call upon the Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude.  We also can take comfort in Our Lord’s promise that we’ll be rewarded for our sacrifice.

Through the intercession of the First Holy Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church, may we always have the courage to defend our Catholic Faith…

even when it requires suffering!