Lest we forget, today is a good day to sing this hymn!
Good King Wenceslas: "
King WenceslasGood King Wenceslas looked out on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel"
Christmas sheet music to download and play. You can dowload Good King Wenceslas here.
Updated offerings on the Feast from a few years ago.
Stephen belongs to the group of seven deacons whom the Apostle associated with their work in order to lighten their load. He was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit", "full of grace and strength" he showed himself as a man of God, radiating divine grace and apostolic zeal. As the first witness to Christ he confronted his opponents with quiet courage and the promise made by Jesus (Mark 13.11) was fulfilled: ". . .Disputing with Stephen they were not able to resist the wisdom ant the spirit that spoke".
In St. Stephen, the first martyr, the liturgy emphasizes the imitatior of Christ even to the extent of the complete gift of self, to the extent of that great charity which made him pray in his suffering for his executioners. By establishing the feast on the day after Christmas the Church draws an even closer comparison between the disciple and the Master and thus extends his witness to the whole mission of the redeeming Messias.
From Catholic Culture
A couple of points come to mind. Jesus came to earth to save us from sin, but not necessarily suffering, hardship, and physical death. Yet by going through those things we can grow closer to him, or maybe even draw others closer to Him.
How many came to Christianity because they witnessed the strength of Steven's faith as he willingly died for Christ? We know that this event even played a part in St. Paul's conversion to Christianity. When we suffer, sacrifice and die, literally or not, do those actions and how we bear them bring others to Christ or not?
I think of my friend who lost her baby to a genetic disorder when she was 2 months old, and how at her funeral she offered her child now in heaven as an intercessor to homeschool families. That example of strength and selflessness deeply touched me and I have asked that baby girl for help many times since! That same mother cradled her baby's body as we all prayed the rosary, a bittersweet moment to be sure but certainly much like Mary cradling her dear Jesus after the crucifixion. I saw the dignity of that mother and of the child, (whom many would have aborted by the way because of her disorder.)
My own Uncle Al who I blogged about a few years ago - a death just before Christmas that helped us focus on what it means to live a Christian life with all of the joys and the hardships. A martyr in his own way I supposed, sacrificing for his family, his community, his church - and doing so with cheerful vigor!
A few Christmases later his youngest daughter Phyllis was near death. Her suffering was even more poignant as she was only four years older than me. She was the "older cousin" that I looked up to as a kid. As I reflect on her life I see the love of a daughter caring for her elderly parents, particularly her widowed mother, a loving wife who was both a friend and partner to her husband, a caring mother, a beautiful musician, and a good roll model for me as a young woman, trying to figure out my own vocation of simplicity in marriage. Phyllis was in her own way a Christian martyr, picking up her crosses every day.
Two other friends of mine, real women with real families and the usual concerns and problems, cared for their elderly mothers suffering from physical and mental ailments until they died their own natural deaths. These women showed me a compassion, loyalty, love to an extraordinary degree that just had to be a special grace they were given for such a big task!
But I suppose what has the biggest impact on me at mass, particularly in light of the apologetics discussions I have had on this blog, was the last line of today's Gospel reading: "whoever endures to the end will be saved." St. Stephen did, and I have been so blessed to see other examples of that endurance in my lifetime.
So in her wisdom, St. Stephen's Day seems to be well placed to remind us what the full meaning of the incarnation really is. The church brings us two other reminders during this season with the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents, and the remembrance of St. Thomas Becket. The Christmas light and the blood of martyrs