Jesus said to his disciples, «Be on your guard with respect to people, for they will hand you over to their courts and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of me, and so you may witness to them and the pagans. But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say and how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak; but it will be the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn against parents and have them put to death. Everyone will hate you because of me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved».
Today we are invited to meditate over the personality of St. Stephan, the first martyr of the Church, immediately after the celebration of Christmas. We are gladly reminded that in blood of St. Stephan that Saul became Paul and gave him the possibility to discover the divine mercy. The incarnation has already foretold the death and resurrection. However, man has refused to understand this expression of divine love, not only in the birth of His only begotten Son, but also the death, which give us the hope of eternal life.
We are called to be assure not to be frightened. The deeper meaning of the gospel is, not giving our life for Christ, rather to be aware of the presence of God in difficult moments of life. In such situations, we are given the spiritual energy, just like that was given to Stephan. The more we imitate Stephan, by fixing our eyes in the divine realities, the better will be our capacity, to give a life giving witness to God’s love and forgiveness.
«They will hand you over to their courts and they will flog you»
Fr. Josep Mª MASSANA i Mola OFM
Today, just having savored the deep experience of the birth of the Child Jesus, the liturgical scenery has changed over. We might think that celebrating martyrdom does not fit with the Christmas charm... The martyrdom of St. Stephen, whom we revere as the protomartyr of Christianity, falls squarely into the theology of the Incarnate Son of God. Jesus came into this world to shed His Blood for us. Stephen was the first who shed his blood for Jesus. We read in this Gospel as Jesus himself announces it: «you will be handed over to the local councils and (…) you will be brought before as witnesses» (Mt 10:17/18). Precisely "martyr" means exactly this: witness.
This witness in word and deed is given thanks to the force of the Holy Spirit: "the Spirit of your Father (...) will speak though you» (cf. Mt 10; 19). As we can read in the "Acts of the Apostles", Chapter 7, Stephen, brought to court, gives a superb lecture, by making a tour through the Old Testament, while showing that it all converges in the New Testament, in the Person of Jesus. Whatever had been announced by the prophets and taught by the patriarchs is fulfilled in Him.
In the narrative of his martyrdom we can find a beautiful Trinitarian allusion: "Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7.55). His experience was as a taste of the Glory in Heaven. And Stephen died as Jesus did, by forgiving those who sacrificed him: «Lord, do not hold this sin against them» (Acts 7.60); he said his Master's words: "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Lk 23:34)
Let us ask this martyr to let us live like him, full of the Holy Spirit, so that, by fixing our gaze into Heaven, we can see Jesus at the right hand of God. This experience will allow us to already enjoy Heaven, while we still are on Earth.