Friday, December 26, 2003

Sancte Stephane, Ora Pro Nobis!

I hope all of you had a joyful and blessed Christmas! Mine was busy, but wonderful: I love celebrating the Masses of Christmas. I enjoyed Christmas dinner with some parishioners, as there wasn't enough time for me to travel to be at home for Christmas this year.

Today is the feast of St. Stephen the Protomartyr:

I used to be puzzled at celebrating this feast on the day after Christmas. It seemed to me that, after the joy and exaltation of Christmas, to celebrate the feast of a martyr was sort of a comedown. I mean, it's not as though we know the actual date of Stephen's death, so the Church could have picked almost any day. But this date is not a coincidence. There is a fittingness to this date, as St. Fulgentius (465-533) tells us in a homily for this day:
Yesterday we celebrated the temporal birth of our eternal King: today we celebrate the triumphal passion of his soldier. Yesterday our King, having put on the garb of our flesh, came from the sanctuary of His Mother's virginal womb, and mercifully visited the earth: today his soldier, quitting his earthly tabernacle, entered triumphantly into heaven... Yesterday Jesus was wrapped, for our sakes, in swaddling clothes: today Stephen was clothed with the robe of immortal glory. Yesterday a narrow crib contained the infant Jesus: today the immensity of the heavenly court received the triumphant Stephen... The place of honor amidst all who stand round the crib of the new-born King belongs to Stephen, the proto-martyr, who, as the Church sings of him, was "the first to pay back to the Saviour the death suffered by the Saviour." It was just that this honor should be shown to Martyrdom; for Martyrdom is the creature's testimony and return to the Creator for all the favors bestowed on him: it is man testifying, even by shedding his blood, to the truths which God has revealed to the world... Now the glorious martyr-band of Christ is headed by St. Stephen. His name signifies the Crowned, and a conqueror such as he could not be better named. He marshals, in the name of Christ, the white-robed army; for he was the first, even before the apostles themselves, to receive the summons, and right nobly did he answer it.

Christ is Savior and Lord. He is King, and the Shepherds and Wise Men acknowledged his Kingship. But Christ did not rule from a throne, but from the Cross. He did not wear a crown of gold and gems, but a crown of thorns. He is Triumphator, but His triumph came through suffering and death. So Stephen points the way for us, to follow Christ to glory!