First Martyr in Christmas

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The WORD in other words (2022) by Fr Sonny De Rivera SVD (Rome)

December 26 – Feast of St Stephen / Octave of Christmas

One may say, how is it possible that a day after Christmas, a solemnity and a time of joy for the entire people of God, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church? He was dragged outside the city walls and brutally stoned to death after defending his Christian faith. Why disturb the charm with the memory of such atrocious violence?

According to Pope Francis, today’s feast of St. Stephen is in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas. In Stephen’s martyrdom, “violence is defeated by love and death by life.” Stephen “offers pardon to his persecutors.” Just as the birth of Christ heralded excellent and glad tidings to God’s people, so too was Stephen’s martyrdom. The death of the first martyr of the Church witnessed the confrontation between good and evil, hatred and forgiveness, between humility and violence.

Our remembrance of the first martyr reflects the actual image of Christmas. The Incarnation’s authentic meaning is linked to Bethlehem and Calvary through the narrow door of the Cross. In today’s Gospel, Jesus indicated to his disciples, “All for my name’s sake will hate you. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

We have been blessed with martyrs of yesterday and today. In their moments of martyrdom, with their gaze fixed on Jesus, they asked for the grace to live and die with him. On St. Stephen’s Day, we are also called to fix our gaze on the Son of God. In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, we contemplate how we can truly witness to our faith. Are we ready to open ourselves to that light that calls and directs us to the path of good, the way of selfless humanity, all according to God’s will?

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