There’s nothing sentimental about the Christmas season, at least, liturgically speaking, with the day after the feast of the Incarnation being dedicated to the first martyr, Saint Stephen. The antiphon for Mass (above) tells us what the Church believes. The Stational Mass in Rome for today is the Church of Saint Stephen on the Coelian Hill.
Stephen is clearly one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a convert to the way of living proposed by Jesus. Stephen is known to be the first to lay down his life for Christ.
What comes to mind for Saint Stephen’s intercession is help is all those Christians around the world who live in fear of persecution, and those who live in an atmosphere of being misunderstood –falsely accused. Today is also a day to pray for our deacons since Saint Stephen was among the first 7 deacons of our Church.
“Yesterday the Lord of the universe welcomed us whereas today it is the imitator [Stephen] of the Lord,” Saint Gregory of Nyssa preached.
Stephen was stoned in Jerusalem two years after the Lord was crucified. The Church’s Liturgy echoes the teaching of the Fathers of the Church and what was experienced by Stephen himself: imitate the Lord by teaching truth, praying for those who harm you, forgiving those who falsely accuse you, and offer your life completely, even unto death. Persecuted Christians give good evidence of this assessment.
What connection must we make between the beauty of the birth of the Son of God and the death Stephen? The Child born humbly in poverty will humbly die on the cross, the swaddling clothes at the birth will become the burial shroud; the cave of the birth later becomes the cave of death.
Among the things Saint Stephen is the patron of, are deacons, persecuted Christians, coffin makers, and against headaches.
With the Church we pray,
Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors.