ST. STEPHEN MARTYR: SORROW IN THE MOOD OF CELEBRATION

Yesterday we were set in the joyful mood of celebration as we marked the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ on Christmas day. And while basking in the euphoria of celebration we are immediately taken to another extreme mood to commemorate the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Hence from the joyful mood of birth, we are drawn to the sorrowful mood of death- a birth into glory. Why this transition, you ask me? If you wish to know why read slowly...
Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59
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...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...As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

POINTS FOR REFLECTION 
1. St. Stephen witnessed concretely what he believed in. His martyrdom seems to say loudly: since I believe and celebrate Jesus' birth at Christmas, I should be ready to die for what I believe, I should be ready to die for him who died for love of me.

2. Yes the moment we truly accept Jesus Christ and celebrate his birth, we should as well accept in anticipation his passion and death, and we do so by a daily martyrdom of self-denial, rejection of sin, and evil. Hence like St. Stephen we are called to witness what we believe, not only in words but also in action.
3. But how can we witness when we don't have an encounter? The encounter leads to a radical faith- the type of faith that propelled Stephen and all Christian martyrs to give up their lives in persecution. For you to have an encounter you must go beyond "what was preached or taught you" to "what I experienced as confirmations of the knowledge taught to me". You must move from theories to practical, principles of faith to practical faith. 

No wonder Stephen said I can see heaven thrown open...and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. This is not just some theological principles taught him but his experience, for he truly saw heaven and said what he saw: Jesus standing at the right hand of God contrary to other texts where it is written Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. (Mark 14:62). Jesus' standing in this vision signifies his trial before the Sanhedrin where he stood accused but now vindicated by the witness of Stephen who accuses same Sanhendrin of murdering him(Acts 7:51-53), and there he stood welcoming the soon-to-be martyr into glory.

TASK: Ask yourself now, can you die for your faith if that is what is required of you now? Pray one Our Father and One Hail Mary for Christians undergoing persecution all over the world. 

▪︎Fr. SimOne Madu, OSJ 

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