Feast of St. Stephen, proto-martyr
(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)
“Is it an accident…,” St. Thomas Becket asks in his Christmas sermon according to playwright T.S. Eliot, “that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” Not at all, he goes on to say. Martyrdom is the design of God to draw humans back to the love which the birth of Christ reveals. In other words, the Church proposes today’s Feast of St. Stephen as a reminder that Christ was born to die out of love for the world.
Although many households take down their Christmas lights today and stores haul out Valentine decorations, the Church does not intend that people go back to life as usual. Rather, she wants to make them realize that they are being called deeper into the mystery of holiness which does not shun the world but seeks to sanctify it. Celebration at what is good and sorrow when good is thwarted by evil are two ways Christians show others God’s care for them. Christmas festivities will continue until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, but they will always be tempered by the understanding that material substances are readily corruptible while virtue lasts forever.