As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep.
~ Acts of the Apostles 7: 59-60
The Second Day of Christmas gives us a rather unique liturgical memorial: the death of the first martyr, Saint Stephen. Today’s saint is renown for his singular devotion to the Lord through adoration and service; he believed the unity of truth of the Good News given by Jesus; Stephen is recalled by the Church as being a deacon (see the Acts).
What is revealed to us in sacred Scripture is that Stephen became the first Christian to be killed for his faith in Jesus Christ. A predicted outcome by the Lord. Persecution was received as a consequence to living the intensity life and holiness proposed the Lord Jesus. The Church recognized that persecution as a clear sign that one is on the right path: if you follow in Jesus’ footsteps, you will meet the same fate He did. Saint Stephen gave his witness to Jesus and the Truth of the Gospel, but Stephen’s executions didn’t accept his testimony.
The Acts of the Apostles reveals that they “stopped their ears and rushed upon him” (7:57). What does stopped their ears mean? They would not listen to the reasonableness of the Good News. Convicted by truth, Stephen didn’t compromise and thus fulfilled the prophetic utterance that we read about in today’s Gospel. Historically, it was Saul as a young man, full of zeal for something other than holiness; Saul, later Paul, helped the executioners stone Stephen to death. Remarkably, Stephen died praying for his murderers.
Are we convicted by the Truth of the Incarnation? Can we follow and do what Saint Stephen did?
Come to my assistance my Lord and my God, that I may do for You all that you ask. Strengthen me in adversity and do not let me succumb to my feelings of worthlessness. Help me to feel in my heart all that You speak to me, and help me to understand. May I be to others what they need: a body to work when others cannot; a heart to love those who are forgotten; a shoulder to console those whose soul is in need; a smile to brighten the most somber of Your children; a mouth to proclaim Your love. Let me be to You, as a brush is to a painter, worthless without You, but capable of transforming the human heart by the power of Your mercy. Send me, my Lord if you need me, to touch others as You would touch them, to hold them as You would, to love them as only You can. Make my heart like Yours, that I may forgive everything and love beyond my own human frailty. Come live within me, that I may die to myself so You may fill my very being. Let me serve others as You would serve them, that in doing so I may serve You. Do not let me fail, oh Lord, or lead Your people astray. Allow me to live in Your presence today, that tomorrow I may die in Your hands and may You raise me one day that I may touch your face and live in Your glory.
Saint Stephen, pray for us!
The prayer was written by Deacon Lazaro J. Ulloa
Saint Peter Damian thus begins his Sermon for this Feast: “We are holding in our arms the Son of the Virgin, and are honoring, with our caresses, this our Infant God. The holy Virgin has led us to the dear Crib. The most beautiful of the Daughters of men has brought us to the most beautiful among the Sons of men, [Ps. xliv. 3.] and the Blessed among women to Him that is Blessed above all. She tell us … that now the veils of prophecy are drawn aside, and the counsel of God is accomplished. … Is there anything capable of distracting us from this sweet Birth? On what else shall we fix our eyes? … Lo! whilst Jesus is permitting us thus to caress him; whilst he is overwhelming us with the greatness of these mysteries, and our hearts are riveted in admiration – there comes before us Stephen full of grace and fortitude, doing great wonders and signs among the people. [Acts, vi. 8.] Is it right, that we turn from our King, to look on Stephen, his soldier? No – unless the King himself bid us do so. This our King, who is Son of the King, rises … to assist at the glorious combat of his servant. … Let us go with him, and contemplate this standard-bearer of the Martyrs.”
Quoted by Dom Prosper Gueranger
Saint Stephen is known as the first Martyr. After such a brilliant, holy and happy day as the Nativity of the Lord, we are given the sobering liturgical memorial of one of the early deacons.
Stephen was elected by the 12 Apostles to care for the temporal needs of the poor through the distribution of food and clothing (Cf. Acts). He is the first almoner of the Church. Stephen performed many miracles and confounded the religious authorities in theological disputation while facing false charges. At his trial, Stephen preached the risen Jesus as the Christ to his detractors. He was stoned to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of those who conspired against Stephen was Saul of Tarsus, who later converted and became the great missionary, Saint Paul; he faced death, too, because his belief in Jesus as Messiah.
Saint Stephen, pray for us!