Thursday, December 26, 2019

Feast of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr

Readings of the Day
RB: Ch 68 Assignment of Impossible Tasks
Mass: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Resp Ps 31; Mt 10:17-22

I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy.


Just yesterday we adored a child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. A multitude of the heavenly host with the angel praised God and said, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests" (Lk 2:12-14). Today folks are infuriated and grinding their teeth at Stephen (Acts 7:54) who, filled with grace and power, worked great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). For his witness to the faith, Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7:58-60). This may seem contradictory, or as Pope Francis said in today's Angelus Address, "out of place" amidst the joys of Christmas. The Holy Father continued, "specifically in the perspective of faith, today's celebration is in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas." As we continue to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember too that this same little child grew up. Then as man told us about discipleship, about those who wanted to follow after him: If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it (Lk 9:23-24). One commentator writes: "Bethlehem is the prelude to Calvary. We may not merely stand adoring the crib; we must also follow the cross" (Magnificat, Morning Prayer, December 26, 2019). 

In today's Gospel, Jesus is clear. He warns us about those who will hand us over. He doesn't say "may" hand us over. Then he says when they hand you over, not "if" (Mt 10:17-18). Jesus is direct: You will be hated by all because of my name, while adding, whoever endures to the end will be saved (Mt 10:22). We ask St Stephen to help us "forgive those who trespass against us", and sing with the psalmist: "Be my rock of refuge, O Lord, a stronghold to give me safety. You are my rock and my fortress; for your name's sake you will lead and guide me" (Ps 31). 

We might look to St Stephen and the psalmist too as we read and reflect upon today's passage from the Holy Rule of St Benedict, Ch 68 "Assignment of Impossible Tasks". This is when a brother or sister may be "assigned a burdensome task … something she cannot do" (RB 68:1). Or that she sees "that the weight of the burden is altogether too much for her strength" (RB 68:2). We trust in God's help (RB 68:5). This is helpful for all us, wherever we are, at home, in community, at work, or in school. 

We accept the Holy Father's invitation to "remember all the martyrs of yesterday and today and feel united in communion with them and to ask of them the grace to live and die with Jesus' name in our hearts and on our lips" (Angelus Address). 


Today's photo: Our Christmas tree.

© Gertrude Feick 2019

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