26 December 2016
Nothing can quell the celebrations of Christmas quite like Saint Stephens day. Saint Stephen was the first Christian martyr who was stoned to death in the year 34. Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 His crime was blasphemy for preaching Christ’s message, and for supposedly preaching that message at times in the synagogue. One of the witnesses of his stoning was the Apostle Paul who at the time was an avid persecutor of Christians.
If the modern “Christmas season” signifies a season of parties, Saint Stephens day signifies that there is more than a little pain to go along with those Christmas festivities. It is a reminder that to follow Christ involves difficult decisions, actions, commitment, and painful consequences that often goes along with them. Following Christ often is in direct conflict with public opinion, and practicing Christianity has its costs. Christianity was challenged during Saint Stephens day, and it is today.
Saint Stephen in his arguments defended Christianity against the Sanhedrin or Jewish court. Today the apologetics are often against modern anti-Catholic groups of varied backgrounds. Saint Stephen saw the joy in Christ’s message, and he saw the need to defend and devote himself to that joyful gospel, even against the very real risk of death.
As to why this feast day follows Christmas, Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe gives a perfect quote in his homily. Saint Fulgentius was bishop of that North African city in the 5-6 Century. His homily on Saint Stephen’s day is part of the days Liturgy of the Hours. The saint wrote“And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.” Birth and martyrdom are related after all. Christ descended so that we might ascend.
On this feast day of the first martyr of Christianity, one cannot forget all of the Christian martyrs of 2016. They were numerous throughout the world.