Saint Stephen (On the Feast of Stephen)

saint stephenIt is interesting that the day after we celebrate the birth of Christ – Word made flesh dwelling among us, Love incarnate – that we commemorate the life of a young man stoned to death. New life stands directly next to death. Saint Stephen, first martyr of the Church, was stoned to death at the hands of Saul for preaching Christianity. He was the first of the seven deacons and is thus the patron saint of deacons (as well as stonemasons).

I can remember hearing of Saint Stephen in school and being amazed that people were actually put to death in this manner. We’re such a modern society, we would never do such a barbaric thing as stoning. We are far more sophisticated than that, are we not?

We’ve heard the phrase: Death by a thousand cuts. Could we be the executioners after all? We cast stones by our cold body language, our jagged words, and the way our eyes sharply stare or avoid.

saint stephensaint stephenHow do you honestly feel when you see a hijab in an airport? If you see a gay couple holding hands, do you stare just long enough for them to know you disapprove? Do you look at someone who has lost or gained weight suddenly and assume an eating disorder? Have you looked at someone depressed and wonder why they just can’t get over it? Do you see the elderly and look at them with an assumed societal uselessness? Have you ever rolled up your window at an off ramp when someone is asking for help? These people may not feel your one paper cut of a look or avoidance, but over a time, perhaps when it’s too late…death by a thousand cuts. Whose hands does their blood pour over? Somewhere between one and a thousand, he who is cut realizes that the bleeding won’t stop and is helpless as it flows over our indifference and apathy.

If Love truly did come to us this Christmas, then we have to reverse the adage death by a thousand cuts and employ life by a thousand acts of love. A smile, a hug, a handshake, an open heart, kindness…we could go on. Tim quoted ‘O Holy Night’ and so will I: verse three says, “His law is love, and his gospel peace.” A gospel of peace and love would stop the bleeding.

On this second day of the Christmas season, we are asked to examine our own hands. If we’re holding stones in clenched hands, ready to cast at anyone different, for Christ’s sake, let’s just drop them. A clenched hand still has the capacity to open, hold, and love.

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