December 26, 2018 – St. Stephen, Martyr
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Psalm 31; Matthew 10:17-22
Yesterday, in great joy, we celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ; dressed in white garments and lying in a manger. Today, merely one day later, we celebrate the bloody martyrdom of the deacon, St. Stephen. It is strange, to celebrate the death of someone so soon after the birth of Jesus Christ. Yeah, it is strange, but it keeps us focused on the larger picture. Yesterday we contemplated the coming of the human face of Jesus Christ; today, we contemplate that within his face are the words: “I was born to die for you” (c.f., Giussani, Homily on the Feast of St. Stephen).
Celebrating St. Stephen today reminds us that the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God becoming man, the Son assuming our weak and lowly human condition—Jesus’ birth is only the beginning of the Father’s plan to show us how far He will go to prove his love for us. God doesn’t love us enough just to be with us, to spend time with us. No, God loves us to the point of dying for us.
It is easy to spend a little time with someone, even if you don’t like them. I mean, we all have those people in our lives that sooner or later, whether we like it or not, we have to spend time with. It wasn’t enough for God to become man, to spend time with us! No, to prove His love, to initiate a change, to show that His love can truly change our lives, He didn’t stop at spending time with us. He died for us. Like a father would lay down his life to save his children, like a brother would lay down his life for his sister, like a friend would lay down his life for his friend–the Lord became man, ready to love us even to the point of death.
St. Stephen is the first witness (martyr) of the truly transformative power of this love. Stephen, a deacon, a servant (diakonos) knew that true love meant loving the other even to the point of death (c.f., 1 John 3:16).
In each of our lives, we are faced with this. Yeah, is it true: it is improbable that one of us here will be a literal martyr. But we are all called to more than just being with our family, being in the same house, being in the same town. We are called to more! We are called to true love! That means we have to do all of those little things, those little things that communicate to them their inestimable worth and special beauty. How can we set aside our lives in order to care for others? How can we do not what is best and most convenient for us, but what is best for the other? And how can we keep doing this every day, without end, never being satisfied that we have shown them just how much we love them? Even to the point of being willing to die for them?
This is the great mystery of the joy of Christmas. The innocent face of the baby Jesus tells us, “I was born to die for you.”