Feast of St. Stephen, The First Martyr
The beauty of this Christmas season is all around us. Festive lights, family gatherings, wrapped presents, and sumptuous foods work together to tell us that there is something very special about this time of year. All the while enjoying what this holiday offers us, let it should not obscure the reason for the coming of the Son of God, born of Mary in the small, out-of-the-way town of Bethlehem.
Jesus was born into a broken world, a world like our own, to bring badly needed hope, healing, and reconciliation. That discord remains all around us and shows up in the oddest of places. Why are we so frustrated with each other? Why do we have to make rude comments on social media? Why can’t we have charitable disagreements about public policies?
Today’s Feast of St. Stephen can put a damper on the nostalgic, even romanticized, stories of yesterday with heralding angels and shepherds in their fields. In today’s selection from Acts of the Apostles, religious leaders “were infuriated, and they ground their teeth” at Stephen when, filled with the Holy Spirit, he proclaimed the Word of God. “But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city and began to stone him.”
Too often we “are infuriated and grind our teeth” when the Gospel enjoins us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the imprisoned. Did Jesus really mean it when he said, “I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you”?
In these days that follow Christmas Day, maybe we can imagine being like the wise men following a star. These magi, coming from different places and who traditionally look quite different from one another, are pilgrims making their way to Bethlehem. There they converge on the source of our hope and peace. Coming upon a child in a manger, how do you not experience unconditional love at that moment? Let’s try to experience—and remember—that moment today.
Robert Hotz is a consultant with American City Bureau, Inc. and was the Director of The Passion of Christ: The Love That Compels Campaign for Holy Cross Province.