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(Part 168)


December 26, 2015
Feast of St. Stephen

Today’s readings:
Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59
Psalm 31:3-17
Matthew 10:17-22

Yesterday we celebrated life, the coming into the world of our Savior; today we look at death, the martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:58a). Yesterday we looked to the still of the night, to the quiet serenity of that awesome event at the stable; today we hear the shouting and reviling as Stephen is stoned to death. Yesterday we were filled with joy and peace; today we face grief and turmoil. Yesterday we gazed at the beautiful unblemished face of the Christ child; today we look at the battered, broken and bloody face of Stephen.

What a sudden change in situation! How seemingly improper as we are still right in the midst of our Christmas celebration. But in truth, Christmas and Stephen’s martyrdom are intimately related. Jesus came as a Savior. He came not to live but to die. His purpose in coming is only fulfilled by his death on the cross.

Now we walk the path of Christ and we go the way of our Savior. For some, that means martyrdom. Not just dying to self, as we are all called to do, but a true giving of one’s life for the cause of Christ. Jesus in today’s gospel speaks about what could happen, about the persecution that inevitably comes to committed Christians. He says, “they will hand you over to courts and scourge you” (Mt 10:17). In the West Christians are being haled to court simply for standing up for their beliefs; they are being fined heavily and imprisoned, though not being scourged. Not yet. He says, “children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.” (Mt 10:21b). In the West relatives are turning on each other, especially with regard to their divide on gay ideologies, though not being put to death. Not yet.

Here is the reality in the world today, steeped in secular humanism. “You will be hated by all because of my name” (Mt 10:22a). Christians today are the most persecuted, with actual martyrdom in places like the Middle East. Christians are scorned and mocked for their beliefs. This is by their relatives, friends and neighbors! “To all my foes I am a thing of scorn, and especially to my neighbors a horror to my friends.” (Ps 31:12a).

In the supposedly civilized West, persecution will intensify, simply because the Modernist world cannot accept the witness of true Christians. The goal of the enemy is to eradicate faith, especially the Christian faith. The eventual scenario, in the face of Christians persisting in living their faith, is severe persecution, and the ultimate expression of that is martyrdom. “They conspire together against me; they plot to take my life.” (Ps 31:14b).

So what are we to do? First, we look to God’s mercy. “Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your mercy.” (Ps 31:17). Second, we continue to trust in God. “But I trust in you, Lord” (Ps 31:15a). The God who loves us, who sent His own Son to suffer and die for us, has the greatest plan for our lives. “My destiny is in your hands; rescue me from my enemies, from the hands of my pursuers.” (Ps 31:16).

But we are also to be proactive. The world desperately needs conversion. Even many Catholics are non-practicing and are counted among the hordes of the enemy. We must do massive evangelization. As we engage in spiritual warfare, we are confident of our God. “You will not abandon me into enemy hands” (Ps 31:9a).

Whatever God allows to happen in our lives, that is the best for us. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. This is the reality: “You are my God.” (Ps 31:15b). If our future includes martyrdom, so be it. That is a sure ticket to heaven. “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56). Then indeed God “will set my feet in a free and open space.” (Ps 31:9b). Eternally.

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