WEDNESDAY HOMILY: Saint Stephen Shows Us the Christ Child Was Meant for Sacrifice
"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
HYTHE, KENT, UK (Catholic Online) - Just as a newborn babe and mother glow with life, the Church basks in the glow of the Nativity for eight days in the Christmas Octave, during which each feast and saint within this octave teaches us a special lesson about the newborn Infant-God. All of them have a special closeness with the mystery of the Incarnation, an intimate participation in his divinity.
Today is the feast of Saint Stephen, Protomartyr, the first martyr after the death and glorious resurrection of Christ to witness to him unto the shedding of his blood. Saint Stephen's death this close, the very next day after, the birth of the Savior, teaches us why this child was born. He was born to be THE Martyr, the Witness of the Father's love by shedding his blood on the Cross. Yes, God wants us to rejoice and enjoy the glow of the manger scene, but not have illusion whatsoever about this little child.
He was born in a town called Bethlehem, which means in Hebrew house of bread, and placed in a manger, where animals eat, so that it would be very clear that he is for us a sacrificial victim, which feeds and nourishes us. He is our Eucharist. It is sacrificial love that nourishes a soul, the sacrifice of a mother sheltering her baby from the cold, the sacrifice of a man who lays his life down for his friends that truly feeds the human heart with the love that it longs for. Saint Stephen is a good companion to the child we see in Bethlehem, because his example feeds us with strength of soul to witness to the identity of the child.
Do we need strength today?
When rights of babies in the womb are not respected and treated as intruders unworthy of the protection of law? When the sacred institution of marriage is threatened by all sorts of abominable distortions of the one-man, one-woman irrevocable covenanted union? When government leaders have the temptation like King Herod to seek to destroy Christ, to trample upon the commandments of God and rub out the name of God in our public institutions, schools, and communities?
We need courage.
Where does courage come from? Saint Stephen teaches us the answer. He gazed upon Christ seated at the right hand of the Father. Prayer - we need to find strength from the experience of being loved that can only come from frequent, intense, and profound contact with God through prayer, especially the source, summit, and center of Christian prayer, the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
The Christmas Octave should be a time of profound prayer and silence, of powerful joy-filled communion with Jesus Christ. We should be overcome and swept up with his tiny littleness, the vulnerability, innocence, all clothed in divine Power and Perfection. This mystery ought to make our hearts strong and courageous. We ought to therefore be given the confidence which makes us, as it says in the Gospel, "not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say" when it comes to situations that threaten the very basic core of a Christian culture.
The rest of the Christmas Octave shows us different dimensions of closeness with this mystery.
The feast of Saint John the beloved, who placed his head upon the breast of the Redeemer; the feast of the H0ly Innocents, who suffered and unknowingly witnessed to the Innocent One like the victims of abortion today; Saint Thomas Becket who defied the government of the day in favor of the divine Governor; the Holy Family who lived in intimate communion with Christ; and finally the Mother of God, who worshiped in intimate tenderness the Infant-God with love beyond all telling. All of these feasts should show us a sweet closeness to the Christ child, that ought to give us a Christmas courage, eloquence in defending life, and a renewed sense of being children of the Eternal God.
May the prayers of Saint Stephen, Saint John the beloved, the Holy Innocents, Saint Thomas Becket, good Saint Joseph, and especially the Holy Mother of God, obtain for us many graces this Christmas Octave.
Father Samuel Medley, SOLT, is a priest of the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, and is currently based in Hythe, Kent, United Kingdom. He is a speaks to groups around the world on Blessed Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body. Visit his homily blog http://medleyminute.blogspot.com or his blog on sexual ethics http://loveandresponsibility.org
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