12.26.17 Tues. Christmas Season – (II)
Feast of St. Stephen
1st Rdg Acts of the Apostles 6: 8 – 10, 7: 54 – 59
Gospel Matthew 10: 17 – 22
†Jesus said to his disciples: “But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end* will be saved.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
Homily: Fr. Mike Murphy The Witness of St. Stephen
We have just celebrated a wonderful feast of joy and glad tidings. We have had a joy-filled Christmas with family and friends. But, now, the Church presents a martyr’s feast before us. Yesterday we celebrated the birth of Christ, God taking on flesh to save us from our sins and †Jesus restoring creation back to its harmony. Today is a reminder that the new life of Christ, the joy given to us, comes at a cost. There was a cost for †Jesus for the new life for us; it cost Him His life. So why should our participation in this new life not also have a cost? If we choose to follow †Jesus as disciples, we will be led to a joyful and fulfilling life. This life will also include: failures, disappointments, and rejection.
St. Stephen is a model for us of that faithful disciple, who accepts these realities, as part of discipleship. As the Church was growing in Jerusalem, the apostles were preaching, healing the sick, they were meeting for prayer and worship, the Church was growing. The apostles were being pulled in many, many directions and they needed help. So, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they were directed to appoint Deacons. They chose seven men to serve the temporal needs of the community – feed the hungry, and cared for those who are in need.
Stephen cared for the poor but he soon found himself being drawn to proclaiming the Gospel as well. We read “Stephen…was working great wonders and signs among the people” (Acts. 6:8). And I just wonder if it is possible, when Stephen was proclaiming the Word and working great signs, if the apostles said to one another: “What in the world is Stephen doing? We gave him the assignment to wait on tables and serve the poor. Now he is out there proclaiming the Gospel. What’s going on with that guy?”
Remember what †Jesus said to His disciples: “Anyone who believes in me will do far greater works than I.” Stephen was open to the Holy Spirit and following the directions of the Spirit that was leading him. Stephen also shared in the vision of Christ. There was no running away from that vision for this Deacon, even if it took Stephen where he did not want to go. You might recall, after the Resurrection, when †Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee with Peter, He said: “Amen I say to you, when you were younger you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted to go; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you, and lead you where you do not want to go.” (Jn.21:18)
As we mature in the spiritual life, as we grow closer to the Lord, the Spirit we lead us to that place where “no eye has seen, nor ear has heard.” When Stephen was willing to surrender everything to the Lord he said” “Behold, I see the heavens open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) Here was a man who was full of joy and peace in that moment.
The same Spirit that led Stephen to go beyond serving tables, to witnessing his life as a disciple and martyr, is the same Holy Spirit that lives in each one of us. Every day we are presented with opportunities to witness to the love, to the mercy and the compassion of †Jesus. Every day we are given those opportunities to bring into the darkness of the world, the Light of Christ – to shine as bright as the star of Bethlehem.
Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. Many martyrs are witnessing their faith through rejection, ridicule, and even death. Do not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit in your life, to work in your life or your potential to witness heroically to †Jesus. It is within you! Even in the face of a culture like ours, when we are ridiculed, and sometimes rejected because of our belief in †Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Church. In fact, you don’t need a graduate degree in theology to be a martyr, most saints and martyrs of the Church did not have a religious education. Their school of holiness was their daily life – responding to the will of God, regardless of where it took them.
Like †Jesus we must we must leave the comfort and security of the manger and we must courageously proclaim the “Good News”, bringing the “Light of Christ to everyone we meet.
In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.