December 26, 2020
by Eileen Burke-Sullivan
Creighton University's Division of Mission and Ministry
click here for photo and information about the writer

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr
Lectionary: 696

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Psalm 31:3-4, 6, 7, 8, 17, 21
Matthew 10:17-22

Celebrating Christmas home page

Pope Francis on this day - 2015

Pope Francis on this day - 2020

Praying with the Aftermath of Christmas

In his recent Encyclical Letter, Pope Francis challenges his readers to place themselves in the story of the Good Samaritan, and by doing so begin to understand if we are committed to the flourishing of all persons.  Similarly, one might imagine Luke’s account of the martyrdom of St. Stephen in prayer and place themselves in the scene as one of many actors.  There is Stephen himself, of course, seeing a vision of God with Jesus at his right hand welcoming him into his heavenly inheritance.  Of we could see ourselves (difficult as it might be) as one of those stoning Stephen because he is announcing a new narrative about God’s compassion for the poor and mercy toward outcasts and sinners.  Or we might see ourselves in the role of Saul (soon to become Paul) at this point an enemy of the Christian message, equally enraged with Stephen’s message, not prepared to become involved stoning him but he actively supports what is happening by assisting those doing the stoning.  Or we might see ourselves as a bystander, curious or even anxious about the event but not willing to get involved, or we may be a supporter of Stephen, but who recognizes the risk of intervening.

But this is Christmas, why does the Church ask us to pray with this first martyrdom?  Why would we consider our possible role in such a response to God’s invitation to mercy and compassion?  As has been so often reflected before by Pope Francis (and other spiritual writers) the seeds of such violence lie in every human heart.  The death of this martyr is an example of of the Gospel passage from today’s liturgy:  “Beware of human beings, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you . . .  you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them . . .”  The cost of discipleship that Christmas invites us to is not less than the cost of our own lives. 

If we believe in the wonder of Christmas, the Babe of Bethlehem, and God’s generosity and humility in coming among humans, we must also believe in this cost of the relationship with God and God’s friends.    In today’s liturgy, the Church places in stark relationship what Saint Ignatius Loyola calls “the Two Standards.”  The standard of Christ – love, mercy, commitment to the dignity of human personhood in every situation, community and companionship – and the standard of evil that allows us to relish privilege, ignore the poorest and most vulnerable, and consume the earth’s goods without consideration for the consequences.

If we want to claim Jesus, and the Bethlehem story, as our story then we must claim the cost and the victory of following the Standard of Christ. 

“O Come Let Us Adore Him . . . Christ the Lord.”

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