LEARNING THE ART OF FORGIVENESS
CHRISTMAS OCTAVE, Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr
Reading 1: Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59 The author of Acts relates how Stephen, “filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders and signs among the people,” antagonizes some hearers and is put to death.
Gospel: Mt 10:17-22 Gospel: Jesus predicts how his followers will be persecuted and tells them not to worry. “Whoever holds out till the end will escape death.”
St Stephen is considered the first Christian martyr. But isn’t this feast a little out of place immediately after the celebration of Christmas? Film and drama directors often use a technique of contrast to draw our attention. For example, a noisy scene is followed by a period of silence. That’s what the Church employs in the liturgy. Yesterday, we meditated on God’s tenderness in a child; today, we have the violent death of Stephen. In the midst of our celebrations we should not forget that Jesus came to suffer and die for us. Our life will not always be joyful. There will be moments of pain, suffering and persecution, but this should not discourage us. Many Christians in the world and even in our country cannot celebrate Christmas the way we do, due to fear of persecution, but they are living its spirit in a much better way than we!
There is a close connection between the birth of Jesus and the martyrdom of Stephen, as we read in the post-communion antiphon from the Ambrosian liturgy:
Yesterday the Lord was born on earth, for Stephen to be born in heaven. Yesterday our king deigned to visit the world, for Stephen to enter glory.
Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, carefully underlines the resemblance between Jesus and Stephen. He reports how he died like Jesus, forgiving his assassins. I do not think that Stephen learnt the art of forgiving only in his final moments. It was because he practised it towards his persecutors all through his life, that he could do it also at the moment of his death. If we postpone acts of forgiveness for a more favourable time, we may never be able to forgive like Jesus and Stephen. Trust in God and forgiveness of our enemies, must be practiced day after day, and only then will become habits of the heart. This is what we pray for in today’s Collect (Opening Prayer of the Mass).
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 31: 3-4,6,8,16-17 Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
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