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Saturday, December 26, 2015

0441: Reflections on the Feast of Saint Stephen
by Pope Francis



Entry 0441: Reflections on the Feast of Saint Stephen 

by Pope Francis (Updated 25 December 2017)


On four occasions during his pontificate, Pope Francis has delivered reflections on the feast of Saint Stephen on 26 December 2013, 26 December 2014, 26 December 2015, and 26 December 2016. Here are the texts of the four reflections prior to the recitation of the Angelus delivered on these occasions.


FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, PROTOMARTYR

POPE FRANCIS

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Thursday, 26 December 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

You aren’t afraid of the rain, you are very good!

The liturgy extends the Solemnity of Christmas for eight days: a time of joy for the entire People of God! And on this second day of the octave, the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, is inserted into the joy of Christmas. The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5), chosen with six others for the service of widows and the poor in the first Community of Jerusalem. And it tells us about his martyrdom, when after a fiery dispute that aroused the anger of the members of the Sanhedrin, he was dragged outside the city walls and stoned. Stephen dies like Jesus, asking pardon for those who killed him (7:55-60).

In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this commemoration may seem out of place. For Christmas is the celebration of life and it fills us with sentiments of serenity and peace. Why disturb the charm with the memory of such atrocious violence? In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of Saint Stephen is in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom, in fact, violence is conquered by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their “birth into heaven.” Therefore, today we celebrate the “birth” of Stephen, which in its depths springs from the Birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into a dawn of new life!

In the martyrdom of Stephen the same confrontation between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between 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 fairytale, sugarcoated 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 the divine salvation involved the battle against sin, it passes through the narrow door of the Cross. This is the path which Jesus clearly indicated to his disciples, as today’s Gospel attests: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

Therefore today we pray especially for the Christians who are discriminated against on account of the witness they bear to Christ and to the Gospel. Let us remain close to these brothers and sisters who, like Saint Stephen, are unjustly accused and made the objects of various kinds of violence. Unfortunately, I am sure they are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many! This occurs especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized. However, it also happens in countries and areas where on paper freedom and human rights are protected, but where in fact believers, and especially Christians, face restrictions and discrimination. I would like to ask you to take a moment in silence to pray for these brothers and sisters, and let us entrust them to Our Lady: (Hail Mary, full of grace, ...) This comes as no surprise to a Christian, for Jesus foretold it as a propitious occasion to bear witness. Still, on a civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated.

May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us to live Christmas with the ardor of faith and love which shone forth in Saint Stephen and in all of the martyrs of the Church.


FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, PROTOMARTYR

POPE FRANCIS

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Friday, 26 December 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,

Today the Liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen, who, chosen by the Apostles, along with six others, to carry out the deaconry of charity, that is, to attend to the poor, the orphans, the widows in the community of Jerusalem, became the first martyr of the Church. Stephen, through his martyrdom, honors the coming of the King of Kings into the world, he bears witness to Him and offers up his very life, as he did in his service to the most needy. And he thereby shows us how to live the mystery of Christmas in its fullness.

The Gospel on this feast day recounts part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples at the time that He sends them on mission. He says, among other things: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disturb the celebration of Christmas, but remove that artificial sugary coating which does not appertain to it. They enable us to understand that in the trials accepted as the result of faith, violence is conquered by love, death by life. And to truly welcome Jesus into our life and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is the very one indicated by this Gospel, that is, to bear witness to Jesus in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current and of paying in the first person. And if not all are called, like Saint Stephen, to shed their blood, each Christian is, however, asked to be consistent in every circumstance with the faith that he or she professes. And Christian consistency is a grace that we must ask of the Lord. To be consistent, to live as Christians and not to say: “I am a Christian,” but live as a pagan. Consistency is a grace we must ask for today.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding but beautiful, very beautiful journey, and those who follow it with faithfulness and courage receive the reward promised by the Lord to men and women of good will. As the angels sang on Christmas Day: “Peace! Peace!” This peace granted by God is capable of calming the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, are able to receive the Word of God and commit themselves to observing it with perseverance to the end (see Mt 10:22).

Today, brothers and sisters, let us pray in a special way for those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for bearing witness to Christ. I would like to say to each one of them: if you bear this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Christ and of the Church.

Further, let us pray, also because of the sacrifice of these martyrs of today—there are so many, so very many!—that the commitment to recognize and concretely ensure religious freedom be strengthened, as this freedom is an inalienable right of every human being.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that you spend the Christmas season peacefully. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr, sustain us on our daily journey, which we hope to crown, in the end, with the joyous assembly of Saints in Paradise.


FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, PROTOMARTYR

POPE FRANCIS

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Saturday, 26 December 2015

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Stephen. The remembrance of the first martyr follows immediately after the solemnity of Christmas. Yesterday we contemplated the merciful love of God, who became flesh for us. Today we see the consistent response of Jesus’ disciple, who gives his life. Yesterday the Savior was born on earth; today his faithful servant is born in heaven. Yesterday, as today, the shadows of the rejection of life appear, but the light of love—which conquers hatred and inaugurates a new world—shines even brighter. There is a special aspect in today’s account of the Acts of the Apostles, which brings Saint Stephen close to the Lord. It is his forgiveness before he is stoned to death. Nailed to the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Likewise, Stephen “knelt down and cried with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60). Stephen is therefore a martyr, which means witness, because he does as Jesus did. Indeed, true witnesses are those who act as He did: those who pray, who love, who give, but above all those who forgive, because forgiveness, as the word itself says, is the highest expression of giving.

We could ask, however, what good is it to forgive? Is it merely a good deed or does it bring results? We find an answer in the very martyrdom of Stephen. Among those for whom he implores forgiveness there is a young man named Saul; this man persecuted the Church and tried to destroy her (see Acts 8:3). Shortly thereafter Saul becomes Paul, the great saint, the apostle of the people. He has received Stephen’s forgiveness. We could say that Paul is born by the grace of God and by Stephen’s forgiveness.

We too are born by the forgiveness of God. Not only in Baptism, but each time we are forgiven our heart is reborn, it is renewed. With each step forward in the life of faith the sign of divine mercy is imprinted anew. For only when we are loved are we in turn able to love. Let us remember this, it will be good for us: if we wish to progress in faith, first of all we must receive God’s forgiveness; we must meet the Father, who is willing to forgive all things, always, and who precisely in forgiving heals the heart and rekindles love. We must never tire of asking for divine forgiveness, because only when we are forgiven, when we feel we are forgiven, do we learn to forgive.

Forgiving, however, is not an easy thing, it is always very difficult. How can we imitate Jesus? From what point do we begin to pardon the small and great wrongs that we suffer each day? First of all, beginning with prayer, as Saint Stephen did. We begin with our own heart: with prayer we are able to face the resentment we feel, by entrusting to God’s mercy those who have wronged us: “Lord, I ask you for him, I ask you for her.” Then we discover that this inner struggle to forgive cleanses us of evil, and that prayer and love free us from the interior chains of bitterness. It is so awful to live in bitterness! Every day we have the opportunity to practice forgiving, to live a gesture so lofty that it brings man closer to God. Like our heavenly Father, may we too become merciful, because through forgiveness, we conquer evil with good, we transform hatred into love and in this way we make the world cleaner.

May the Virgin Mary, to whom we entrust those—and unfortunately there are so many—who like Saint Stephen suffer persecution in the name of the faith, our many martyrs of today, direct our prayer to receive and give forgiveness. Receive and give forgiveness.


FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN, PROTOMARTYR

POPE FRANCIS

ANGELUS

Saint Peter’s Square, Monday, 26 December 2016

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The joy of Christmas fills our hearts today too, as the liturgy involves us in celebrating the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr, inviting us to reflect on the witness that he gave us with his sacrifice. It is precisely the glorious witness of Christian martyrdom, suffered for love of Christ; the martyrdom which continues to be present in the history of the Church, from Stephen up to our time.

Today’s Gospel (see Mt 10:17-22) told us of this witness. Jesus forewarns the disciples of the rejection and persecution they will encounter: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 22). But why does the world persecute Christians? The world hates Christians for the same reason that they hated Jesus: because he brought the light of God, and the world prefers darkness so as to hide its evil works. Let us recall that Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, prayed that the Father might protect us from the wicked worldly spirit. There is opposition between the Gospel and this worldly mentality. Following Jesus means following his light, which was kindled in the night of Bethlehem, and abandoning worldly obscurity.

The Protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he professed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Only Begotten Son who comes into the world invites every believer to choose the way of light and life. This is the meaning of his coming among us. Loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the Deacon Stephen chose Christ, Life and Light for all mankind. By choosing truth, he became at the same time a victim of the inexplicable iniquity present in the world. But in Christ, Stephen triumphed!

Today too, in order to bear witness to light and to truth, the Church experiences, in different places, harsh persecution, up to the supreme sacrifice of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith endure abuse and violence, and are hated because of Jesus! I shall tell you something: today’s martyrs are more numerous with respect to those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the first centuries, here in Rome, we read of so much cruelty toward Christians; I tell you: there is the same cruelty today, and to a greater extent, toward Christians. Today we should think of those who are suffering from persecution, and to be close to them with our affection, our prayers and also our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, Christians persecuted in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed cathedral: it is an example of faithfulness to the Gospel. In spite of the trials and dangers, they courageously witness their belonging to Christ and live the Gospel by committing themselves in favor of the least, of the most neglected, doing good to all without distinction; in this way they witness to charity in truth.

In making room in our heart for the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas, let us joyfully and courageously renew the will to follow him faithfully, as the only guide, by continuing to live according to the Gospel attitude and rejecting the mentality of those who dominate this world.

Let us raise our prayers to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, that she may guide us and always sustain us on our journey in following Jesus Christ, whom we contemplate in the grotto of the Nativity and who is the faithful Witness of God the Father

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana


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For reflections on the feast of Saint Stephen 

 by Pope Benedict XVI,
please scroll down to the bottom of this page.


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