Acts 6: 8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and [h]signs among the people. 9 But some men from what was called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and [i]Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. 10 But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.
11 Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.” 12 And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came up to him and dragged him away and brought him [j]before the [k]Council. 13 They put forward false witnesses who said, “This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; 14 for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us.” 15 And fixing their gaze on him, all who were sitting in the [l]Council saw his face like the face of an angel
Acts 7:51“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.”
54 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. 55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he [ag]fell asleep.
Lest we forget, today is a good day to sing this hymn!
Good King Wenceslas: "
Good 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 download Good King Wenceslas here.
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
Stephen is also the first Deacon:
Deacons go from the altar and the ambo into the street. As a result of their experiences, they are often good homilists. Church history recounts the great homilies of Deacons such as Ephrem, the \”harp of the Holy Spirit\” and others. Then there are the deacon martyrs, including Stephen and Lawrence and so many others. Their act of sacrificial love continues to inspire the whole church as a perpetual homily!..We have a wonderful deacon at our church. He has ministered to my family by blessing my baby's grave site, blessing the pets every year at the Feast of St. Francis, and visiting my mother when she was on her death bed.
We also have a new deacon whom we have watched grow from his seminarian days! He will be ordained into the priesthood this year.
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.
My Aunt Dot, wife to Al and mother to Phyllis, has had her own special suffering with the death of another child and watching all of her siblings and parents pass away before her. . Yet in her sorrow her faith is strong and unwavering.
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!
Christians in this country and other parts of the world continue to be challenged; hate and division continue.
And maybe that's another reason the Church hits us with a dose of heavy realism right after Christmas - the Lord is with us, now be strong, hold firm, and be worthy of this gift.
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