St. Stephen’s Martyrdom Prevents Trivialization of Christmas Celebrations

In his Dec. 26 Angelus address, Pope Francis says the feast of the first Christian martyr reminds believers that their faith involves sacrifice.

St. Stephen by Carlo Crivelli
St. Stephen by Carlo Crivelli (photo: Wikipedia)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis marked the feast day of St. Stephen on Dec. 26, noting that the martyrdom of the early Church saint helps prevent the Christmas season from being reduced to a trivial celebration.

“The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which he sends them on mission. Among other things, he says, ‘You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved,’” the Pope said during his Angelus address in St. Peter’s Square on Friday.

“These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that, in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life.”

St. Stephen is acknowledged as the first Christian martyr, whose death by stoning was overseen by a Pharisee named Saul. Saul would later become St. Paul — whose own experience of Christ would transform him into a believer and later a martyr himself.

In his remarks, Pope Francis said that even if Christians aren’t called to shed their blood like St. Stephen, “every Christian is called in every circumstance to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.”

He added: “Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of goodwill.”

 

Below is the full text of Pope Francis’ Dec. 26 address:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, the liturgy recalls the witness of St. Stephen. Chosen by the apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of Kings, offering to him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.

The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which he sends them on mission. Among other things, he says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that, in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life. To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as St. Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of goodwill. At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “On earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the consciences of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (Matthew 10:22).

Today, let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas; you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church.

Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May St. Stephen, deacon and proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the saints in paradise.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy