This weekend, since Christmas Day falls on Saturday, December 26 will not be celebrated as “the feast of Stephen,” as we hear in the carol, “Good King Wenceslaus,” but instead will be the feast of the Holy Family. The Holy Family is discussed in several of the articles in this edition of The Anchor, from Grace Small’s St. Joseph column, to Dave Jolivet’s discussion of modern day holy families seeking shelter in train stations, to Father Willy Raymond, CSC,’s discussion of Holy Cross Family Ministries’ work to help make families holy. So, here in the editorial, we will discuss St. Stephen, both as a reminder to pray for the deacons in our midst (since he is one of their patrons) and to push ourselves to imitate his witness to Christ.
Pope Francis gave an Angelus address about St. Stephen last year on his feast day. He began, “Yesterday’s Gospel spoke of Jesus, the ‘true light’ that came into the world, the light that ‘shines in the darkness’ and ‘the darkness has not overcome it’ (Jn 1:9, 5). Today we see the person who witnessed to Jesus, St. Stephen, who shines in the darkness. Those who witness to Jesus shine with His light, not with their own light. Even the Church does not have its own light. Because of this, the ancient fathers called the Church: ‘the mystery of the moon.’ Like the moon, which does not have its own light, these witnesses do not have their own light, they are capable of taking Jesus’s light and reflecting it. Stephen was falsely accused and brutally stoned, but in the darkness of hatred (which was the torment of his stoning), he allowed the light of Jesus to shine: he prayed for his murderers and forgave them, like Jesus on the cross. He is the first martyr, that is, the first witness, the first of a host of brothers and sisters who, even until today, continue to bring the light into the darkness — people who respond to evil with good, who do not succumb to violence and lies, but break the cycle of hatred with meekness and love. In the world’s nights, these witnesses bring God’s dawn.
“But how do they become witnesses? Imitating Jesus, taking light from Jesus. This is the path for every Christian: to imitate Jesus, taking light from Jesus. St. Stephen gives us the example: Jesus had come to serve, not to be served (see Mk 10:45), and he lived to serve and not to be served, and he came to serve: Stephen was chosen to be a deacon, he became a deacon, that is, a servant, and assisted the poor at table (see Acts 6:2). He tried to imitate the Lord every day and he did it even to the end: like Jesus, he was captured, condemned and killed outside of the city, and like Jesus he prayed and forgave. While he was being stoned, he said: ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’ (7:60). Stephen was a witness because he imitated Jesus.” Would we be able to imitate Christ in that manner?
Pope Francis continued, “A question could arise: are these witnesses to goodness really necessary when the world is immersed in wickedness? What good does it do to pray and forgive? Just to give a good example? But, what does that serve? No, there’s a lot more. We discover this from a detail. The text says that among those for whom Stephen prayed and whom he forgave there was ‘a young man named Saul’ (v. 58), who ‘was consenting to his death’ (8:1). A little later, by God’s grace, Saul was converted, received Jesus’ light, accepted it, was converted, and became Paul, the greatest missionary in history. Paul was born by God’s grace, but through Stephen’s forgiveness, through Stephen’s witness. That was the seed of his conversion. This is the proof that loving actions change history: even the ones that are small, hidden, everyday. For God guides history through the humble courage of those who pray, love and forgive. There are so many hidden saints, saints who are next-door, hidden witnesses of life, who with little acts of love change history.” Who knows whom we can affect with our own witness to Christ?
“The Lord wants us to make our lives masterpieces through the ordinary things, the everyday things we do,” Pope Francis said. “We are called to bear witness to Jesus right where we live, in our families, at work, everywhere, even just by giving the light of a smile, a light that is not our own — it comes from Jesus — and even just by fleeing the shadow of gossip. And then, when we see something that is wrong, instead of criticizing, badmouthing and complaining, let us pray for the one who made a mistake and for the difficult situation. And when an argument starts at home, instead of trying to win it, let us try to diffuse it; and start over again each time, forgiving the one who offended. Small things, but they change history, because they open the door, they open the window to Jesus’s light. St. Stephen, while he was on the receiving end of the stones of hatred, reciprocated with words of forgiveness. He thus changed history. We too, can change evil into good each time just as a beautiful proverb proposes which says: ‘Be like the palm tree: they throw stones at it and it drops down dates.’ Today, let us pray for those suffering persecution because of the name of Jesus. They are many, unfortunately. There are more than in the beginning of the Church. Let us entrust these brothers and sisters to the Madonna, that they might respond with meekness to oppression and that, as true witnesses to Jesus, they might conquer evil with good.”