Feast of St. Stephen, Proto-martyr
(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)
Some may think that the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen is celebrated today because Stephen was killed on December 26. However, there is no record of the date of his martyrdom. No, the Church celebrates Stephen’s martyrdom on the day after Christmas to temper Christian joy. The martyrdom of Stephen reminds the faithful that Jesus was born to die on the cross to atone for their sins. Not only that, but Christians are called to carry their crosses after him.
Of course, most Christians will die in bed like everyone else. But they should not think that bloody martyrdom does not exist today. It occurs thousands of times every year. Perhaps this horrible truth was never better exhibited than almost five years ago. The Islamic State aired a video then of its recent slaughter of twenty-one Christians in Libya. Some people hate Christ and his followers because of his devotion to God, the Father. They resent anyone who calls them to love and not lord it over others.
It is remarkable the way business slows down for a week or so during the Christmas season. We are wise to use the leisure time, at least in part, for contemplation. We need to ask ourselves, “How is it that God became human?” There is a follow-up question almost as important, “What does the God-human now expect of me?”