Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Protomartyr I

The very day after the Church marks with great joy the celebration of Christmas (and indeed, the festive spirit carries through the Octave of Christmas: a simple 24-hour period isn't enough to celebrate the magnitude of what God has wrought here!), we have the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, the first disciple who publicly lived out the pattern of the Messiah, who followed in his footsteps. From the wonderful folks who maintain The Daily Gospel (with a useful quote from the Fathers every day), we get this segment from St. Caesarius of Arles (a late 4th century Bishop)
"Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps," (1Pt 2,21). Which of the Lord's examples will we have to follow? Is it his raising of the dead? Is it to walk on the sea? Not in the least. But it is that of being meek and humble of heart (Mt 11,29) and of loving not only our friends but even our enemies (Mt 5,44).

"So that you might follow in his footsteps," writes St Peter. The blessed evangelist John also says the same thing: "Whoever claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he has walked," (1Jn 2,6). And how has Christ walked? He prayed for his enemies on the cross, saying: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do," (Lk 23,34). They have actually lost their senses and are possessed by an evil spirit, and while they are persecuting us, they themselves are undergoing a far greater persecution from the devil. Hence we should be praying more for their deliverance than for their condemnation.

That is indeed what Blessed Stephen did, he who was the first so gloriously to follow in the footsteps of Christ. For, when he was struck by a hail of stones, he prayed standing for himself; but, falling to his knees, he cried out with all his strength for his enemies: "Lord Jesus Christ, do not hold this sin against them," (Ac 7,60). So even if we think we cannot imitate our Lord, let us at least imitate him who was his servant as we are.

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