Feast of St.Stephen, the first Martyr
Right after the joyful celebration of Christmas, especially after a generous bite of Christmas pudding, it is hard to wrap my head around St. Stephen. Why disturb the charm of Christmas with the memory of such atrocious violence? It was no perfect world that Jesus was born into, but a harsh, brutal place where violence is loved more than peace. “I love war…” said General Patton, “peace is going to be hell on me.” And we make war in order to be able to make more war. Simone Weil, the French political activist, wrote, “What a country calls its vital economic interests are not the things which enable its citizens to live, but the things which enable it to make war.”
Into this terrible world, Jesus was born. He was the Prince of Peace in the kingdom of violence and refused to live according to its logic, so he had to die. After him, Stephen was the first Christian martyr, the first of many. In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of St Stephen is in complete harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom, in fact, violence is conquered by love, death by life. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into a dawn of new life!
In the martyrdom of Stephen is the same confrontation between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, meekness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ. Thus, the remembrance of the first martyr immediately dispels a false image of Christmas: the fairy-tale, sugar-coated image, which is not in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the authentic meaning of the Incarnation, by linking Bethlehem to Calvary and by reminding us that divine salvation involved the battle against sin; it passes through the narrow door of the Cross.
Giltus Mathias CP is a member of the St.Brigid’s Community Marrickville.