The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homily: Happy St. Stephen's Day

Readings: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Ps 31; Mt 10:17-22

Happy St. Stephen’s Day! 

For us deacons today is one of our special days. On this day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr.

It might seem a bit strange to join the memory of the Church’s first martyr to the birth of the Redeemer – an odd contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen…for Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church. And yet this seemingly odd contrast is really very much in tune with the mystery of Christmas.

The Child Jesus, born in the stable, the only-begotten Son of God, will ultimately save humanity by dying on the cross. Right now we encounter Jesus as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger. But later, after His passion and death, His body will again be wrapped and placed in the tomb.

In the Eastern Church icons sometimes represent the newborn Baby Jesus lying in a small sarcophagus, as a vivid reminder that the Redeemer was born to die, born to give His life in ransom for all.

St. Stephen was the first to follow in our Lord’s steps; and like Jesus, he died forgiving and praying for his executioners. By doing so he set the stage for all the saints of the early Church who would follow him to martyrdom. This army, a countless multitude, the liturgy calls "the white army of martyrs."

The early Church did not view their deaths as a reason for fear and sadness; indeed, quite the opposite. Back in the 2nd century Tertullian described the blood of the martyrs as the seed of the Church, a source of spiritual enthusiasm, always giving rise to new Christians.

And believe me it will be the same today as the Church experiences increased persecution, for many Christians throughout the world are following in the footsteps of St. Stephen. We should be praying for them and for all those persecuted for the Faith. Pray that they will have the strength to persevere, to realize that the trials they suffer are really a source of victory.

Pray too for the Church’s deacons. We need your prayers as we strive to serve God and His people in the many ways He calls us. For the word deacon simply means “servant” – and serve we must.

The deacons of your parish serve today in jails, and hospitals, and nursing homes, and soup kitchens. They assist in the faith formation of children and adults. They’re involved in healing ministries and provide spiritual direction. They teach, they preach, they heal, and in doing so look to St. Stephen as the model of the servant we are all called to be. Yes, we need your prayers, so that we will have the strength and the courage to do God’s work in the world.

St. Stephen died a martyr, but died filled with joy; and so we can say again, Happy St. Stephen’s Day. 

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