Posted by: fvbcdm | December 26, 2011

Feast of Saint Stephen (26 Dec 2011)

On the day after Christmas each year, the Church celebrates the feast of the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen.  The name “Stephen” comes from the Greek word “Stephanos” meaning either “crown” or “the one crowned.”  We hear about him in the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.  A Jew, he became a Christian and was among the first seven deacons of the Church in Jerusalem who were ordained to help the Apostles in their work.  However, before long, trouble began to erupt between the devout and enthusiastic Stephen and the equally devout Jewish religious leaders of that time and place.  He preached publicly in the Temple, saying that that very Temple would be destroyed, and that the Jewish traditions were merely shadows of the truth to come by the operation of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church.  Those were fighting words, and the zealous Jewish leaders did indeed begin to fight then and there for the defense of their beliefs and the destruction of the new religious views held by the Christians.  

They seized Stephen the deacon, took him outside the city walls, stood him against the city walls as was the custom, and stoned him to death.  One of them was not among those who threw the rocks, but stood slightly apart and guarded their cloaks while they did their killing of the new deacon.  This man’s name was Saul—Saul of Tarsus.  We will hear of him again and again, because he was chosen by God to be a great apostle of the early Church.  As Peter was the leading apostle to the Jews, so Saul, whose name was changed to Paul, became the principal apostle to the Gentiles.  

During their lives, Saints Stephen and Paul probably never spoke to one another, although Paul certainly heard Stephen preaching, and was infuriated by what Stephen said.  But Paul heard Stephen’s last prayers: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit . . . Lord, lay not this sin to their charge.”  Stephen wanted very much that he himself be saved, and that those who killed him would also be saved.  Well, we don’t know about ALL of them, but we certainly know of the marvelous conversion and death of Paul.  Imagine what Paul would have thought had it been revealed to him that he would eventually die for the same Jesus of Nazareth to whom Stephen addressed his last words, and for whom he gladly died.  No doubt they are now the best of friends in heaven, who on earth had been diametrically opposed.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

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