Saturday with the Saints: St. Stephen, First Deacon and Martyr
Feast day: 26 December
Patron Saint of Bricklayers, Deacons, Hungary
Reading 1 ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
“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.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Advent is almost over. The time of preparation is almost over. The plans have been made, the tree has been trimmed (or will soon be), the candles are burned, the gifts have been purchased and wrapped. We have been able to spend the last few weeks in deep devotion and reflection, as humanly possible according to our circumstances, and we have acknowledged our longing and our searching for the gift that is to arrive. Even if you’ve come to the table late, rattled by holiday stress, overcome by traditional family angst or limited funds, the Lord has still prepared the way for us to find Him: in Mass, in Reconciliation, in Adoration and Devotion. Tomorrow, we will find him as a newborn infant, who will tug at our hearts for comfort and consolation, cuddling and protecting.
Then, Wham! The next day, the first Monday of this joyous season of Christmas, we honor St. Stephen, the first deacon and martyr. Well, that can be a downer…. No resting on our laurels here, says Mother Church. She, in her infinite wisdom and divine direction, urges us to keep the Infant Jesus in mind – embrace those feelings of love and protection that a newborn stir in us, but also gently asks us to reflect on how have we lived? How far will we go on this journey? How long will we last in the fight for that Newborn’s life within us?
St. Stephen was chosen – using the apostle’s litmus test – one who was well respected, full of the Holy Spirit, and wise. He was close to our Lord in mind, body, and spirit. He embraced that Infant Jesus to death. He embraced that Infant Jesus when others abandoned him and misunderstood him. His words could not be refuted and he spoke the truth because he allowed the Holy Spirit to work within and through him, in all matters both big and small. In life, St. Stephen accepted the calling to baptize, to preach, and to spread the gospel. Then, in death, he looked up to the Lord. He offered his life up for the Lord as a gift, with complete forgiveness in his heart. Like the Magi who brought offerings to the Infant, like the shepherds who came to adore Him in the cradle, St. Stephen’s life and death became a gift to the Lord. St. Stephen was a true imitation of Christ, in life and in death – our supreme goal!
So, as we close out this Advent season and begin the Christmas journey into the New Year, let’s challenge ourselves to be more like St. Stephen by embracing the Infant Jesus, accepting the Holy Spirit, and living a life with honor and purpose. Ask yourself these questions -
- Am I honorable, faithful, with a good reputation that uplifts all that I hold dear and true?
- Am I humble, repentant, prayerful and open to the Holy Spirit?
- Can I preach the Gospel, spread the Word, spend time in prayer over scripture?
- Do I share my faith, my witness, my time and my energy on others who are less fortunate, less knowledgeable, and in need?
- Do I meditate on my words before they leave my mouth?
- Am I forgiving of others who hurt me in words and actions, holding no ill-will to anyone who persecute and revile me?
- Am I willing to, in the end, offer my life (full and complete) to our Lord, with a humble and contrite heart?
Let’s also pray:
Saint Stephen, pray for me that I may one day glorify the Blessed Trinity in heaven. Obtain for me your lively faith, that I may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of almighty God. Pray, that I may be generous in making sacrifices of temporal things to promote my eternal interests, as you so wisely did.
Set me on fire with a love for Jesus, that I may thirst for His sacraments and burn with zeal for the spread of His kingdom. By your powerful intercession, help me in the performance of my duties to God, myself and all the world.
Win for me the virtue of purity and a great confidence in the Blessed Virgin. Protect me this day, and every day of my life. Keep me from mortal sin. Obtain for me the grace of a happy death.