Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Saint Stephen, the Protomartyr - Saint Etienne le protomartyre - The Second Day of Christmas


Saint Étienne : Diacre et premier martyr (+ 35)


Étienne qui porte un nom grec (stephanos, le couronné) apparaît parmi les disciples des apôtres dans la première communauté chrétienne de Jérusalem. Quand des disputes (ce sont les premières mais, hélas pas les dernières dans l'histoire de l'Église) s'élèvent au sujet des veuves hellénistes et des veuves juives, on pense tout de suite à lui et il devient le premier des sept diacres chargés du service des tables. Il s'en acquitte à merveille sans pour autant se trouver exclu du service de la Parole. Ce n'est pas en effet pour son service de charité qu'il est arrêté mais bien pour avoir, devant des représentants de la "synagogue des Affranchis", proclamé avec sagesse l'Évangile de Jésus, le Christ. On le conduit devant le sanhédrin. Il parle. On l'écoute longuement sans l'interrompre. Toute la prédication des apôtres défile dans son discours qui se termine par une vision divine: "Je vois les cieux ouverts et le Fils de l'Homme debout à la droite de Dieu." C'en est trop. On se saisit de lui, on l'entraîne, on le lapide sous les yeux d'un certain Saul. Étienne meurt comme son Maître, pardonnant et s'abandonnant entre les mains du Père. Il est le premier martyr et, de ce grain tombé en terre, le premier fruit sera la conversion de Saul sur le chemin de Damas, pour qui le ciel s'est ouvert aussi. Paul en fut aveuglé parce qu'il n'avait pas encore reçu la grâce du Baptême.

Saint Étienne, témoin courageux:

Le 26 décembre 2009, le Pape a dit que "celui qui se trouve dans la mangeoire, est le Fils de Dieu fait homme, qui nous demande de témoigner avec courage de son Évangile, comme l'a fait saint Étienne".

Premier martyr chrétien "rempli de l'Esprit Saint, il n'a pas hésité à donner sa vie par amour de son Seigneur. Il meurt, comme son maître, en pardonnant ses persécuteurs et nous fait comprendre comment la venue du Fils de Dieu dans le monde donne naissance à une nouvelle civilisation, la civilisation de l'amour, qui ne se rend pas devant le mal et la violence et qui abat les barrières entre les hommes en les rendant frères dans la grande famille des fils de Dieu".

"Le témoignage d'Étienne, comme celui des martyrs chrétiens, montre à nos contemporains souvent distraits et désorientés, sur qui doit reposer leur confiance pour donner un sens à leur vie. Le martyr, en effet, est celui qui meurt avec la certitude de se savoir aimé de Dieu, et, sans rien faire passer avant l'amour du Christ, sait qu'il a choisi la meilleure part". Benoît XVI a ajouté que "l'Église, en nous présentant le diacre saint Étienne comme modèle, nous montre aussi, dans l'accueil et dans l'amour envers les plus pauvres, un des chemins privilégiés pour vivre l'Évangile et témoigner aux hommes de façon crédible du Règne de Dieu qui vient".

Après avoir souligné que la fête de saint Étienne "nous rappelle aussi tous ces croyants qui, à travers le monde, sont mis à l'épreuve et souffrent à cause de leur foi", le Pape a demandé de s'engager "à les soutenir par la prière et à être fidèles à notre vocation chrétienne, en mettant toujours au centre de notre vie Jésus-Christ que nous contemplons, en ces jours, dans la simplicité et l'humilité de la crèche".

Les Églises orientales ont fêté Marie, en son mystère d'être la "Theotokos", la Mère de Dieu, la toujours Vierge, le 26 décembre, au lendemain de la Nativité. Elles reportent la célébration de saint Étienne au 27 décembre.



St. Stephen

The deacon Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem two years after the death of Christ, has always been the object of very special veneration by the faithful. He is the first martyr. The account in the Acts of the Apostles relating his arrest and the accusations brought against him emphasize the parallel with our Saviour's trial; he was stoned outside the city wall and died, like his Master, praying for his executioners.

Stephen belongs to the group of seven deacons whom the Apostles associated with their work in order to lighten their load. He was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," "full of grace and strength" he showed himself as a man of God, radiating divine grace and apostolic zeal. As the first witness to Christ he confronted his opponents with quiet courage and the promise made by Jesus (Mark 13.11) was fulfilled: ". . .Disputing with Stephen they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit that spoke."

In St. Stephen, the first martyr, the liturgy emphasizes the imitator of Christ even to the extent of the complete gift of self, to the extent of that great charity which made him pray in his suffering for his executioners. By establishing the feast on the day after Christmas the Church draws an even closer comparison between the disciple and the Master and thus extends his witness to the whole mission of the redeeming Messiah.

Professing the Christian Faith Demands the Heroism of the Martyrs:

On the day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate today the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. At first glance, to join the memory of the "protomartyr" and the birth of the Redeemer might seem surprising because of the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church.

In reality, this apparent opposition is surmounted if we analyze in greater depth the mystery of Christmas. The Child Jesus, lying in the cave, is the only-begotten Son of God who became man. He will save humanity by dying on the cross.

Now we see Him in swaddling clothes in the manger; after His crucifixion, He will again be wrapped in bandages and placed in the sepulcher. It is no accident that the Christmas iconography sometimes represents the divine newborn Child lying in a small sarcophagus, to indicate that the Redeemer was born to die, He was born to give His life in ransom for all.

St. Stephen was the first to follow in the steps of Christ with martyrdom: like the divine Master, he died forgiving and praying for his executioners (cf. Acts 7:60). During the first four centuries of Christianity all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs.

They are a countless multitude, which the liturgy calls "the white army of martyrs," (martyrum candidatus exercitus). Their death was not a reason for fear and sadness, but of spiritual enthusiasm, which always gave rise to new Christians. For believers, the day of death, and even more so, the day of martyrdom, is not the end of everything, but rather the "passage" to immortal life, it is the day of the final birth, the "dies natalis." Thus is understood the link that exists between the "dies natalis" of Christ and the "dies natalis" of St. Stephen. If Jesus had not been born on earth, men would not have been able to be born for heaven. Precisely because Christ was born, we are able to be "reborn."

Also Mary, who took the Redeemer in her arms in Bethlehem, suffered an interior martyrdom. She shared His Passion and had to take Him, once again, in her arms when they took Him down from the cross. To this Mother, who felt the joy of the birth and the anguish of the death of her divine Son, we entrust those who are persecuted and those who are suffering, in different ways, for witnessing and serving the Gospel.

With special spiritual closeness, I am also thinking of the Catholics who maintain their fidelity to the See of Peter without giving in to compromises, at times even at the cost of grave sufferings. The whole Church admires their example and prays that they will have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are a source of victory, though for the moment they might seem to be a failure. (Angelus Message, Pope Benedict XVI, December 26, 2006)

St. Stephen is a patron of Casket makers; coffin makers; deacons; headaches; horses; stone masons; some symbols of Stephen are a deacon carrying a pile of rocks; deacon with rocks gathered in his vestments; deacon with rocks on his head; deacon with rocks or a book at hand; stones; palm of martyrdom.

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Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for we celebrate the heavenly birthday of a man who know how to pray even for his persecutors. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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This evening, I fly to Timmins for the ordination tomorrow afternoon of its new bishop, Mgr Serge Patrick Poitras. On Christmas Day, following the 10:30 Mass at the Cathedral, I took a good long walk in the snow-covered pathways that border the Ottawa River, then joined a few members of the household, friends and several Jesuit confreres for dinner in the dining-room, a festive feast done up by chef Gerry Tighe.  Some photos:








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