Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Feast of Stephen

Christmas Day comes and goes, as it is wont to do. For a whole day the outside world seems to recede, as church and family and joy and peace rise in our hearts.

Then, on the 26th, we read the headlines. A man dressed as Santa burns a house down and kills nine people. Another man shoots (not fatally, thank goodness) a man who annoyed him by talking during a movie. Economic woes loom on the horizon; peace on earth is a distant dream.

The incongruity of the world's troubles with that peaceful Nativity scene seems almost too terrible to behold. What happened to the hymns of heavenly peace, of angels' song and good news to men?

But this day, the 26th of December, is the day we celebrate the feast of the first Christian martyr. Saint Stephen, whose martyrdom St. Paul witnessed--as the one watching over the garments of the killers--was the first of those given the glorious crown of martyrdom, the first whose blood watered the seed of the faith being sown, and whose example led many heroic men and women to accept, with willing faith, that same crown of glory. The birth of the babe in Bethlehem led to the day of St. Stephen's final profession of faith, and birth into Heaven; the Good News of our salvation has never been accepted with quiet acquiescence or equanimity by the world.

And so, two thousand years after the birth of Christ, the darkness that is in the world still resists the light of joy and love. Men still act with the greed and selfishness and hatred and violence that has plagued humanity since the Fall. But for every person who brings sorrow and anger upon his fellow men, there are others, who carry love and goodness with them wherever they go. Transformed by the light of faith, they walk in hope--not a false and worldly hope that looks for government bailouts and material prosperity, but the eternal hope of salvation, of living forever in that glorious New Jerusalem filled with the Presence of God, the Beatific Vision.

Wherever they are, they pour out their lives for God. Some of them inspire us by their example of selfless love; some of them amaze us by their dedicated service; some of them make us wish to be better, or to do more.

Evil is loud and attracts attention, flinging stones, drawing blood, inflicting pain and suffering, causing the torments of body and spirit. Good is quiet and self-effacing, binding up wounds, healing with love, strengthening and comforting, lifting us out of ourselves and reminding us that we, who seek to follow Christ, must follow Him from the manger to the foot of the Cross if we wish to follow Him in glorious resurrection at the end of the world. On this feast of the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, I am especially grateful for the quiet faces of good, for those who are willing to stand at the point of death itself to help preserve our faith from the attacks of the powers of darkness.

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