The second day in the Octave of Christmas brings us from the joy of the crib to the necessity of sacrificing even one's life to proclaim the Holy Name of the Child Who was born for us in Bethlehem to give birth to us unto eternal life.
Today, the Feast of Saint Stephen, the Protomartyr, is a sober reminder to us during the midst of Christmas joy that we not even the joy we are experiencing at present in this Octave of jubilation can compare to the eternal joys that await the souls of those who bear witness to the true Faith in the midst of fierce, violent opposition. Although Saint Stephen was stoned to death on August 3, the same date on which his body was found and subsequently transported to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence, his fellow deacon, the feast of his martyrdom has been placed by Holy Mother Church from time immemorial on the second day in the Octave of Christmas to teach us that the little Babe of Bethlehem came to fortify us to be His disciples at all times no matter who opposes us, no matter what we are called to sacrifice in terms of human respect, material possessions, or even life itself.
Father Benedict Baur, O.S.B., discussed this truth in his The Light of the World:
St. Stephen is a type of the Church and of the true Christian. The coming of the Son of God. is not merely a lovely idyll, a pastoral scene, or an idle play; it is a reality which must be accomplished in the life of the Church and in the life of each Christian. The Christian who wishes to celebrate Christmas in the proper spirit must become like St. Stephen, a man of faith and wisdom, a man of grace and fortitude in the Holy Spirit. He must place his life and his strength at the service of the So of Go and, becoming an apostle of Christ, dedicate himself to the salvation of souls of his fellow men. For it will come to pass that the Christian, too, will come "unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1: 11); then he will have acquired the spirit of Christ. The Christian, too, must become a martyr fro Christ, for Christ came, not to bring peace, but the sword (Matt. 10: 34). Christ will and must be a king. He turns away resolutely from the old man, from all that is worldly and all that is sinful. "He that is not with Me is against Me" (Luke 11: 23). Those who accept Christ completely will themselves soon experience that which was written of the Son of God, "His own received Him not." This repudiation has been the experience of the Church, ad it will be the experience of each faithful Christian This is the idea which St. Stephen personifies in the liturgy of today.
"Princes sat and spoke against me, and the wicked persecuted me. . . . [But] I see the heavens opened and Jesus standing on the right hand of the power of God" (Gradual). Stephen is a type of the Church and the true Christian. "The torrent of stones was sweet to him" (Antiphon at Lauds). Stephen is a symbol of the Church, for his spirit is in her and in all true Christians. (Father Benedict Baur, O.S.B., The Light of the World, Volume I, B. Herder Book Company, 1954, pp. 104-105.)
Yes, each of us is called to have the courage of Saint Stephen as we proclaim the truths of the Faith both by word and by deed. As I have written in several past commentaries over the course of the past eight and one-half years or so, we should not be surprised when our closest relative and friends turn against us as we endeavor, despite our sins and failings that they remember only too well, to grow in the Faith and/or as we come to recognize the truth of our ecclesiastical situation. We must remain steadfast in the midst of this opposition, praying for those who have rejected us and forgiving them whatever wrongs that they may commit against us. Saint Stephen the Protomartyr teaches us to be courageous in the midst of the Faith and to forgive those who persecute us, calumniate or to seek to harm us physically for doing so.
The Acts of the Apostles records Saint Stephen's dauntless courage as he proclaimed the truths of the Gospel of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ to the Jews (a lesson that is rejected by the conciliar "popes" and their rump "cardinals" and bogus "bishops" in these our own days):
Then the high priest said: Are these things so?
Who said: Ye men, brethren and fathers, hear. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charan. And said to him: Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee.
Then he went out of the land of the Chaldeans, and dwelt in Charan. And from thence, after his father was dead, he removed him into this land, wherein you now dwell. And he gave him no inheritance in it; no, not the pace of a foot: but he promised to give it him in possession, and to his seed after him, when as yet he had no child. And God said to him: That his seed should sojourn to a strange country, and that they should bring them under bondage, and treat them evil four hundred years. And the nation which they shall serve will I judge, said the Lord; and after these things they shall go out, and shall serve me in this place.
And he gave him the covenant of circumcision, and so he begot Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begot Jacob; and Jacob the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, through envy, sold Joseph into Egypt; and God was with him. And delivered him out of all his tribulations: and he gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharao, the king of Egypt; and he appointed him governor over Egypt, and over all his house.
Now there came a famine upon all Egypt and Chanaan, and great tribulation; and our fathers found no food. But when Jacob had heard that there was corn in Egypt, he sent our fathers first: and at the second time, Joseph was known by his brethren, and his kindred was made known to Pharao. And Joseph sending, called thither Jacob, his father, and all his kindred, seventy-five souls. So Jacob went down into Egypt; and he died, and our fathers.
And they were translated into Sichem, and were laid in the sepulchre, that Abraham bought for a sum of money of the sons of Hemor, the son of Sichem. And when the time of the promise drew near, which God had promise to Abraham, the people increased, and were multiplied in Egypt, till another king arose in Egypt, who knew not Joseph.
This same dealing craftily with our race, afflicted our fathers, that they should expose their children, to the end they might not be kept alive. At the same time was Moses born, and he was acceptable to God: who was nourished three months in his father's house. And when he was exposed, Pharao's daughter took him up, and nourished him for her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; and he was mighty in his words and in his deeds. And when he was full forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
And when he had seen one of them suffer wrong, he defended him; and striking the Egyptian, he avenged him who suffered the injury. And he thought that his brethren understood that God by his hand would save them; but they understood it not. And the day following, he shewed himself to them when they were at strike; and would have reconciled them in peace, saying: Men, ye are brethren; why hurt you one another?
But he that did the injury to his neighbor thrust him away, saying: Who hath appointed thee prince and judge over us? What wilt thou kill me, as thou didst yesterday kill the Egyptian? And Moses fled upon this word, and was a stranger in the land of Madian, where he begot two sons.
And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the desert of mount Sina, an angel in a flame of fire in a bush. And Moses seeing it, wondered at the sight. And as he drew near to view it, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:
I am the God of thy fathers; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses being terrified, darest not behold. And the Lord said to him: Loose the shoes from thy feet, for the place wherein thou standest, is holy ground. Seeing I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, am am come down to deliver them. And now come, and I will send the into Egypt.
This Moses, whom they refused, saying: Who hath appointed thee prince and judge? him God sent to be prince and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. He brought them out, doing wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the desert forty years.
This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel: A prophet shall God raise up to you of your own brethren, as myself: him shall you hear. This is he that was in the church in the wilderness, with the angel who spoke to him on mount Sina, and with our fathers; who received the words of life to give unto us, Whom our fathers would not obey; but thrust him away, and in their hearts turned back into Egypt, saying unto Aaron: Make us gods to go before us. For as for this Moses, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And they made a calf in those days, and offered sacrifices to the idol, and rejoiced in the works of their own hands. And God turned, and gave them up to serve the host of heaven, as it is written in the books of the prophets: Did you offer victims and sacrifices to me for forty years, in the desert, O house of Israel? And you took unto you the tabernacle of Moloch, and the star of your god. Rempham, figures which you made to adore them. And I will carry you away beyond Babylon.
The tabernacle of this testimony was with our fathers in the desert, as God ordained for them, speaking to Moses, that he should make it according to the form which he had seen. Which also our fathers receiving, brought in with Jesus, into the possession of the Gentiles, whom God drove out before the face of our fathers, unto the days of David Who found grace before God, and desired to find a tabernacle for the God of Jacob.
But Solomon built him a house. yet the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands, as the prophet saith: Heaven is my throne, and the earth my footstool. What house will you build me? saith the Lord; or what is the place of my resting? Hath not my hand made all these things?
You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
Now hearing these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed with their teeth at him.
But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. and he said: Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.
And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, invoking and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.
And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord Jesus, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord. And Saul was consenting to his death. (Acts 7:1-59)
As I have noted repeatedly on this site, Jorge Mario Bergoglio and his predecessors as the universal public faces of apostasy of the counterfeit church of conciliarism have forbidden the sort of "proselytism" undertaken by Saint Stephen in the discourse recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. Unlike the conciliarists, Saint Stephen was not interested in learning what the Jews believed. He knew what the Jews believed, and he knew that they had toconvert to be saved. He was willing to suffer a brutal death by stoning rather than to be silent about the necessity of proclaiming the Holy Name at all times and in all places without any exception whatsoever. Saint Stephen, therefore, teaches us about the solemn obligation that we have to seek the conversion of all others to the true Faith, and to do so with boldness, understanding that authentic Charity seeks the good of others, the ultimate expression of which is the salvation of their immortal souls by means of belonging to the true Church that the God-Man Himself created upon the Rock of Peter, the Pope.
Saint Stephen perfectly imitated Our Lord as he preached His Holy Gospel. He prayed for his persecutors just as Our Lord had prayed for His persecutors, namely, each one of us, as He spent those three horrible hours on the wood of the Holy Cross on Good Friday. This is a reminder to each one of us once again to take seriously the following words that Our Lord delivered in the Sermon on the Mount:
You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and the bad, and raineth upon the just and unjust.
For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly father is perfect. (Matthew 5: 43-48)
We must keep this constantly in mind. We are called to pray fervently for those who misunderstand us, for those who hate us, for those who spread false rumors about us, for those who think that they know every intention of our hearts and the exact circumstances of our lives, those who pass judgments about us even though they may not know us at all. We must accept humiliations and misunderstandings with joy, recognizing that they are meant to unite us with the humiliations and calumnies experienced by Our Lord Himself, offering them all to Him through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. We must pray especially for our family members and friends from whom we may be estranged on account of our embrace of the fullness of the Faith without making any concessions to conciliarism or to the nonexistent legitimacy of its counterfeit church and its officials, understanding that it is only by the graces that flow to us through Our Lady's loving hands that we have been able to commit ourselves to the very patrimony that the Apostles have handed down to us through Holy Mother Church.
Yes, we must pray, pray, pray, pray, and then pray some more, doing so with special fervor as the consecrated slaves of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Our Lord doesn't give up on us, who are full of faults and failings. We must not give up on others. We must pray for the Triumph of Our Lady's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. All things are possible with God, are they not? Why not this? Why not the restoration of Social Reign of Christ the King? Why not the full and unfettered restoration of the the Church Militant on earth? God is not powerful enough to answer our prayers as the consecrated slaves of His Most Blessed Mother's Immaculate Heart?
We must also pray for those in public office who assault the truth and promote all manner of abject evils under cover of law. We must pray the conversion of non-Catholic public officials to the fullness of the Catholic Faith after they publicly abjure their errors (see In Full Communion with Apostasy from 2007 that dealt with former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair's "conversion" to conciliarism without abjuring his support for baby-killing), and we must pray that Catholics in public life who have sold out the Faith for the thirty pieces of silver that comes their way from the popularity of the multitudes and of the media and "intellectual" elites will embrace the Faith into which they were baptized with the same apostolic zeal as Saint Stephen himself.
We must pray for the conversion of those who kill babies for a living.
We must pray for the conversion of Jews and Protestants and Masons and Mohammedans and adherents of occult practices and those steeped in the demonic worship enshrined in the so-called "New Age" movement and its allies (Hinduism, Buddhism, animism).
We must pray for the conversion of atheists and those who are steeped in bitter hatred for Our Lord and His true Church.
We must pray for the the conversion of the conciliar revolutionaries themselves, including Jorge Mario Bergoglio and his band of spiritual robber barons.
We must pray as Saint Stephen prayed, trusting completely in Our Lord and His Most Blessed Mother to bring those prayers to fruition.
Saint Stephen also imitated Our Lord, the King of Martyrs, by forgiving those who were stoning him to death, including Saul of Tarsus. Saint Stephen's prayers from eternity brought about Saul's conversion to the true Faith, making him the Apostle to the Gentiles, the great Saint Paul. Saint Stephen recognized that his own martyrdom was an occasion to unite himself completely to the Passion and Death of Our Lord Himself, and that he had to exhibit the same spirit of forgiveness that Our Lord displayed when He said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (John 23:34). Saint Stephen thus had no hesitation at all to forgive those who were stoning him to death, knowing that there was nothing that he could suffer that was the equal of what one one of his least sins caused Our Lord to suffer in His Sacred Humanity on the wood of the Holy Cross.
This is something that we must remember at every moment of our lives. Each of us is the beneficiary of the unmerited Mercy of the Divine Redeemer. Our sins caused Our Lord to suffer unspeakable horror during His Passion and Death. He forgive us, His executioners, as He hung on the Holy Cross. He extends that forgiveness to us through the words and actions of an alter Christus in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance. We must extend that forgiveness to all others, sharing with Saint Stephen the perfectly Catholic understanding that there is nothing--and I mean absolutely nothing--that anyone can do to us or say about us that is the equal of what one of our least venial sins caused Our Lord to suffer during His Passion and Death. Who are we to withhold from others what is given to us so freely and so frequently by Our Lord Himself? We are the worst of prideful hypocrites if we hold on to grudges of any sort when we ourselves seek out forgiveness for our own sins in the confessional.
Consider, for example, the Parable of the Unjust Steward:
"Then Peter came unto Him and said: 'Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times.'
"Jesus saith to him: 'I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.'
" 'Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a king, who would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him, that owed him ten thousand talents. And as he had not wherewithal to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children all that he had, and payment to be made.
" 'But that servant falling down, besought him, saying: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." And the lord of that servant being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt.
" 'But when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow servants that owed him an hundred pence: and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: "Pay what thou owest." And his fellow servant falling down, besought him, saying: "Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all." And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he paid the debt.
" 'Now his fellow servants seeing what was done were very much grieved, and they came and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him; and said to him: "Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me: Shouldst not thou then have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?" And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt.
" 'So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.'" (Lk. 18:21-35)
That's right, ladies and gentlemen: we will not be forgiven our sins unless we forgive others from our hearts without any trace of bitterness at all! We recite the Pater Noster many times during a day, praying "Et dimmite nobis debita nostra, sicut et nos dimmitimus debitoribus nostris." "And forgive us our trespasses we forgive those who trespass against us." The martyrs, following the example of Our Lord and His Protomartyr, Saint Stephen, forgave their persecutors. We must do the same.
True, we may not be reconciled fully in this life with those in whose life we may have caused pain or with those who have caused us to suffer. We must, though, seek out forgiveness from others and to give it freely even if it turns out to be the case that there will not be a full restoration of friendship until the glories of Heaven, when all of those who have persevered to their dying breaths will be reconciled one unto the other. An absolute precondition of that happy reunion in Heaven, however, is to have at all times the spirit of forgiveness and prayer that Our Lord Himself taught us many times in His Public Ministry and ratified on the wood of the Holy Cross, the spirit of forgiveness and prayer that Saint Stephen demonstrated at the moment of his own martyrdom.
Consider this example of forgiveness that was offered by the legitimate Queen of England, Catherine of Aragon, to her debauched husband, King Henry VIII, written shortly before Queen Catherine's death on January 7, 1536, at the age of fifty:
My most dear lord, King and husband,
The hour of my death now drawing on, the tender love I owe you forceth me, my case being such, to commend myself to you, and to put you in remembrance with a few words of the health and safeguard of your soul which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and pampering of your body, for the which you have cast me into many calamities and yourself into many troubles. For my part, I pardon you everything, and I wish to devoutly pray God that He will pardon you also. For the rest, I commend unto you our daughter Mary, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I have heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants I solicit the wages due them, and a year more, lest they be unprovided for. Lastly, I make this vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.
Katharine the Queen (Letter of Katharine of Aragon to her husband.)
And you can't forgive the brother who hasn't written to you in ten years? Think again. Forgive as you have been given. Saint Stephen did. Why can't you?
The little Babe Whose Birth we continue to celebrate during this Octave of Christmas came to take upon Himself the debt of our own sins so as to make it possible for us to have access to the merits of His Passion and Death in the Sacrament of Penance. The fruitfulness of our confessions is shown in large part by how our own hearts, hardened by sin, disordered self-love and indifference, are softened according to the likeness of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate of Mary to bear sufferings patiently, to forgive readily, to pray ceaselessly, especially means of praying as many Rosaries each day as our states-in-life permit. In all of this you, see, Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, teaches us that the joy of Bethlehem is meant to take us to the perfect love of Love Incarnate on the wood of the Holy Cross, extended to us in time in an unbloody manner in every true offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and from there to the glories of an unending Easter Sunday in Heaven itself.
The readings for Matins in the Divine Office for today's feast include a reflection on the martyrdom of Saint Stephen by Saint Fulgentius:
Yesterday we were celebrating the birth in time of our Eternal King; today we celebrate the victory, through suffering, of one of His soldiers. Yesterday our King was pleased to come forth from His royal palace of the Virgin's womb, clothed in a robe of flesh, to visit the world; today His soldier, laying aside the tabernacle of the body, entereth in triumph into the heavenly palaces. The One, preserving unchanged that glory of the Godhead which He had before the world was, girded Himself with the form of a servant, and entered the arena of this world to fight sin; the other taketh off the garments of this corruptible body, and entereth into the heavenly mansions, where he will reign for ever. The One cometh down, veiled in flesh; the other goeth up, clothed in a robe of glory, red with blood.
The One cometh down amid the jubilation of angels; the other goeth up amid the stoning of the Jews. Yesterday the holy angels were singing, Glory to God in the highest; today there is joy among them, for they receive Stephen into their company. Yesterday the Lord came forth from the Virgin's womb; today His soldier is delivered from the prison of the body. Yesterday Christ was for our sakes wrapped in swaddling bands; today He girdeth Stephen with a robe of immortality. Yesterday the new-born Christ lay in a narrow manger; today Stephen entereth victorious into the boundless heavens. The Lord came down alone that He might raise many up; our King humbled Himself that He might set His soldiers in high places.
Why brethren, it behoveth us to consider with what arms Stephen was able, amid all the cruelty of the Jews, to remain more than conqueror, and worthily to attain to so blessed a triumph. Stephen, in that struggle which brought him to the crown whereof his name is a prophecy, had for armour the love of God and man, and by it he remained victorious on all hands. The love of God strengthened him against the cruelty of the Jews; and the love of his neighbour made him pray even for his murderers. Through love he rebuked the wandering, that they might be corrected; through love he prayed for them that stoned him, that they might not be punished. By the might of his love he overcame Saul his cruel persecutor; and earned for a comrade in heaven, the very man who had done him to death upon earth. (Matins, The Divine Office, Feast of Saint Stephen.)
May Saint Stephen help us to be strong in the Faith, bearing witness to the Holy Name at all times and in all places, and fervent in prayer, unhesitating in our willingness to forgive as we are forgiven.
Our Lady, Mother of God, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, Patron of Departing Souls, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint John the Evangelist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saints Joachim and Anne, pray for us.
Saints Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar, pray for us.
Saint Stephen the Protomartyr, pray for us.