2016-11_lt-stephen

Mary and the Saints/My Faith/Theology

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen is a Perfect Reminder of Why Jesus Came

Every year, the Mass readings for December 26th throw me off guard. While I’m over here basking in the glow of family, presents, and good cheer (okay, let’s be honest, I’m really eating Christmas cookies), the Church is somewhere entirely different proclaiming the brutal martyrdom of St. Stephen.

What the heck, Church? Can’t we enjoy this bliss just a tad bit longer?

While I may complain, after reflecting on the beauty of this decision, I recognize that our Church is pretty smart. She knows that the Christian life isn’t easy. And, that Stephen is an example of discipleship we can learn a lot from.

As much as I don’t want to look at the face of death in this beautiful time, St. Stephen’s story is as much a story of hope and faith as any other, and I’m impressed by the lessons we can learn from this first incredible saint. Take a journey through Scripture with me, and perhaps you’ll feel the same way too.

Lesson #1 – Stephen was brave enough to say, “yes” despite the difficulty.

The apostles must’ve seen something in the way that Stephen lived his life that they didn’t question him as an advocate of their mission. At the time, Christianity wasn’t a popular religion, often persecuted violently, and it was a great risk to preach the Gospel boldly. Stephen shows great courage in saying “yes” to this mission. And, even greater than that, he didn’t chicken out when the times got rough.

Which begs me to ask myself, am I brave enough to say “yes” even when the times are rough? Eesh… I should probably work on that.

Lesson #2 – Stephen was a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit (Acts 6:5).

This line strikes a chord within me. Not because I’m surprised that the Apostles could see in Stephen that he was a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, but I often wonder, would the Apostles have seen that same virtue in me? Would my actions and words express that I am a disciple of God? I hesitate to say yes, but desire so badly for this to be true.

Lesson #3 – Stephen handled opposition and false accusations with grace.

When Stephen was seized and taken before an angry council to defend himself and all his teachings, “his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). What!? Okay Stephen, you’re a great guy and all, but this is incredible. How did you do that? How did you stay calm in the midst of such false accusations? I would be livid. I mean, it’s one thing to be questioned, it’s another to be accused of something you didn’t do or say…

But, Stephen gives us a profound example of what it means to live the words of Scripture: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23) … unwavering is his patience and peace, he knows that truth will conquer.

Lesson #4 – Stephen was not afraid to speak the truth and share His wisdom.

Speaking of truth, Stephen was unafraid of what speaking the truth may elicit in his life. He saw the message of peace and love as far more important than that of “political correctness.” Uh, talk about a lesson to learn today, in this crazy period of history. Turn any corner and you’ll see opposition somewhere. Turn any other corner and you’ll see the pressure to conform to an idea. But, there is so much peace in knowing that the truth never changes, that the Catholic Church is unwavering and stands firm in the teachings of Christ. Stephen and the apostles set this precedent. It is you and I that must carry it on.

Lesson #5 – Stephen was not afraid to give His life for the Lord. He encountered great peace in doing so.

Okay, It’s one thing to speak the truth, it’s a whole other ball game to give your life for the truth. Talk about a high bar you set Stephen. But wow, what an example. It’s incredible to me that Christ had pretty much just died (in the grand timeline of things) and Stephen was willing to go all the way out of love for Him and His people. He didn’t need “scientific proof” of God’s existence or the examples of anyone else. Just Christ alone – and what He did for us on the cross.

The name Stephen actually means “crown” in Greek. How fitting that he would be the first to receive the martyr’s crown. Would I be willing to receive this same crown?

Lesson #6 – He was merciful toward his persecutors.

Now here comes the pinnacle of Stephen’s story. This is the part that gets me the most. His forgiveness of his persecutors. In the midst of death, Stephen cries out in prayer, “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).

Wow…

Are you sure we’re in the joyful, hope-filled octave of Christmas here?

Yes. Yes we are. But, here is the difficulty and great grace of St. Stephen’s story: God didn’t come to us in the form of a small baby to just say “hi” or hang around for some time. God came to us so that He could carry out a plan that would show His mercy and love to the world.

Just like Christ, Stephen chose the same mission. He didn’t stop at hanging out with the people to say nice things, just to wimp out when the going got rough – he followed through with God’s mission. How profound, how difficult, how admirable that is.

This Christmas Octave, as you sit before the manger scene, consider Christ not only as a feeble child, but as a strong man who endured the cross for you. And, as you sit before the manger scene, consider how Christ is calling you out of that same attitude for yourself. Consider how He is calling you to recognize that you are more than just a feeble human being, but rather, with His strength — powerful and bold (Galatians 2:20).

My prayer for you is that St. Stephen is a beacon of light for you in this crazy and frustrating world. May he teach you how to lean into Christ’s strength and live life in such a way that Christ’s love cannot help but overflow through you. Amen

Prayer to St. Stephen
O glorious St. Stephen, first Martyr for the Faith, filled with compassion for those who invoke you, with love for those who suffer, heavily burdened with the weight of my troubles.
I kneel at your feet and humbly beg you to take my present needs under your special protection. Bring them to our Lord Jesus.

Cease not to intercede for me until my request is granted. Above all, obtain for me the grace to one day meet God face to face, and with you and Mary and all the angels and saints praise Him through all eternity.

O most powerful Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, do not let me lose my soul,
but obtain for me the grace of winning my way to heaven, forever and ever. Amen.

Feature image art from Wikimedia Commons: Martyrdom of St Stephen by Bernardo Cavallino

About the Author

Rachel Penate

I am a Wisconsin girl at heart who has a slight obsession with the band Switchfoot. When I was little I dreamed of becoming a professional figure skater, but instead found myself studying Education. Currently I reside in the great, yet terribly hot state of Arizona, and serve as Assistant to the Executive Vice President of Life Teen. I love most: my job, the ocean, running half-marathons, my dog Gus, husband Robbie, and above all — my Lord. Follow me on Twitter @LT_rachelp