St Stephen, the First Martyr – 26 Dec
First Christian martyr. Deacon. Preacher. All we know of him is related in the Acts of the Apostles. While preaching the Gospel in the streets, angry Jews who believed his message to be blasphemy dragged him outside the city, and stoned him to death. In the crowd, on the side of the mob, was a man who would later be known as Saint Paul the Apostle.
FEAST OF SANTO STEFANO PROTOMARTIRE
St. Peter’s Square
Thursday, 26 December 2019
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Today is celebrated the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. The Book of Acts of the Apostles speaks to us of him (cf. chap. 6-7) and in today’s liturgy page he presents it to us in the final moments of his life, when he is captured and stoned (cf 6,12; 7,54- 60). In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this memory of the first Christian killed for the faith may appear out of place. However, precisely in the perspective of faith, today’s celebration is in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas. In Stephen’s martyrdom, in fact, violence is defeated by love, death by life: in the hour of supreme witness, he contemplates the open skies and gives the persecutors his forgiveness (cf. v. 60).
This young servant of the Gospel, full of the Holy Spirit, was able to narrate Jesus with words, and above all with his life. Looking at him, we see Jesus’ promise to his disciples being fulfilled: “When they mistreat you for my sake, the Spirit of the Father will give you the strength and the words to give testimony” (cf Mt 10,19-20). At the school of Santo Stefano, who became similar to his Master both in life and in death, we too fix our gaze on Jesus, faithful witness of the Father. We learn that the glory of Heaven, that which lasts for eternal life, is not made up of wealth and power, but of love and self-giving.
We need to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, “author and perfector of our faith” ( Heb 12,2), in order to account for the hope that has been given to us (cf. 1Pt 3:15), through challenges and trials that we have to face daily. For us Christians, heaven is no longer distant, separated from the earth: in Jesus, Heaven descended to earth. And thanks to him, with the power of the Holy Spirit, we can take everything human and direct it to Heaven. So that the first testimony is precisely our way of being human, a lifestyle shaped according to Jesus: mild and courageous, humble and noble, non-violent.
Stephen was a deacon, one of the first seven deacons of the Church (cf Acts 6 : 1-6). He teaches us to proclaim Christ through gestures of fraternity and evangelical charity. His testimony, culminating in martyrdom, is a source of inspiration for the renewal of our Christian communities. They are called to become more and more missionaries, all striving for evangelization, determined to reach men and women in the existential and geographical peripheries, where there is more thirst for hope and salvation. Communities that do not follow the worldly logic, that do not put themselves, their image at the center, but only the glory of God and the good of the people, especially the little ones and the poor.
The feast of this first martyr Stephen calls us to remember all the martyrs of yesterday and today, – today there are many! – to feel in communion with them, and to ask them for the grace to live and die with the name of Jesus in the heart and on the lips. May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, help us to live this Christmas time by fixing our gaze on Jesus, to become more like him every day.
After the Angelus
Dear brothers and sisters,
I join in the pain that hit the dear population of the Philippines because of the typhoon Phanfone. I pray for the numerous victims, for the injured and for their families. I invite everyone to recite the Ave Maria with me for this people to whom I love so much.
Ave o Maria, …
I greet all of you, pilgrims from Italy and from all countries. The joy of Christmas that fills our hearts even today, arouse in everyone the desire to contemplate Jesus in the cave of the crib, to then serve him and love him in our brothers, especially the most needy.
In these days I have received many good wishes from Rome and from other parts of the world. It is not possible for me to answer each one but I pray for each one. Therefore I express my sincere thanks to you and all today, especially for the gift of prayer that many of you have promised to do: thank you very much.
Happy Boxing Day. Please continue to pray for me. Have a good lunch and goodbye!