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Merry Christmas. Now Brace Yourself . . .


Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world. Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.” ~ Saint Fulgentius of Ruspe

Directly, and I mean directly on the heels of the birth in time of our eternal King, today we commemorate the first man who would go on to die in the name of this newborn King, the great Saint Stephen Some may find the abruptness with which our Church shifts gears a bit unsettling. Couldn’t we have just one 24 hour stretch to chill out and enjoy Boxing Day? Is there a logical reason why we revisit the brutal stoning of this intrepid Protomartyr with the candle smoke from Jesus’ birthday cake still wafting through the air?

The answer to this question has everything to do with the profundity of this newborn King and the life he was destined to live, a life devoted to the will of God the Father. A life rooted in the Cross. Make no mistake; this was a King like no other. Jesus would be the quintessential “disrupter.” He would challenge the status quo every step of the way. He would call out the hypocrites. The hallmarks of His kingship would be mercy, redemption, and love of neighbor, virtues that had heretofore been considered foolish and weak, certainly not kingly. The meek would be counted amongst his most beloved children In his kingdom, repentant tax collectors and prostitutes would enter into heavenly glory before the esteemed members of the ruling religious hierarchy Needless to say, this type of talk would not be tolerated by those in positions of influence and authority.

We need look no further then tomorrow’s Gospel (Luke 2:22-40), chosen in support of the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, wherein the Prophet Simeon, upon encountering the Baby Jesus in the Temple, would go on to proclaim “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted - and you yourself a sword will pierce - so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Those with a strong devotion to our Blessed Mother know that the latter portion of this passage was spoken to Mary directly, and that Simeon’s Prophecy would indeed be the first of the seven sorrows that would pierce her pure and sinless heart

All throughout the Advent Season, amidst the lush violet and rose colored hues, Nativity Scenes and depictions of the Baby Jesus, high atop the altar of every Catholic Church resides the Crucifix. It is never removed from its perch. It serves as a reminder; soon the Christmas Season will be over. Lent looms on the horizon, and with it Jesus’ grim earthly fate. TheTheodrama that is the Catholic Story moves swiftly. Even the Apostles Creed wastes no time in moving from one seminal event to the next. “Born of the Virgin Mary...suffered under Pontus Pilate....was crucified...died....and was buried.” As we journey towards the Epiphany, our church will first pause (on December 28th) to reflect on one of the truly horrible episodes in our church’s history, Herod’s slaughter of the Holy Innocents.

Martyrs come in all shapes and sizes. They hail from the four corners of the world. There are the 13 year old virgins who declared themselves the Bride of Christ, consequently going on to die in His name but not before leading many other persecuted Catholics to freedom Some were Popes Eleven of them were Apostles Some perish by way of the scarlet covenant while others travel the lily white path

There are numerous lessons and truths we can learn from each of them. As author and theologian Paddock Van Zyl points out regarding the life of Saint Stephen, “The two most important things we learn from Saint Stephen probably are, in my estimation, the power of the gospel of Christ (being not ashamed to preach Jesus) and forgiveness, not just the forgiveness that God offers us but the forgiveness that Stephen was able to offer to his accusers and murderers and to even pray for them as he breathed his last. Jesus did the same. It is only when we are able to truly forgive that we are set free. That we are healed. That we are restored and made whole.”

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The quote that kicked off today’s Reflection was taken from a homily delivered by Saint Fulgentius, the Bishop of Ruspe sometime between the years 905-909. I’d like to leave you with a final excerpt from this divinely inspired sermon, one which delves deeper into the importance of celebrating this Feast Day of Saint Stephen on the day after Christmas. Bishop-now-Saint Fulgentius had this to say within the parameters of a homily that has come to be known as “The Armament of Love:”

“Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed. He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity. And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. . . My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.”

Saint Stephen, Protomartyr of our Church, pray for us.

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