Saint Stephen, First Martyr

Today’s readings

Saint Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church, chosen to aid in the distribution of food to those in need, so that the Apostles could continue their work.  He was a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was unafraid to speak the truth.  And that, of course, is what brings him to today’s celebration.  His unwillingness to cover over the truth and his powerful, indisputable words, did not make him friends with everyone, to say the least.  He was stoned to death, an event in which we see perhaps the beginning of the conversion of a man named Saul, who of course, we know, later becomes Saint Paul.

The truth may, as Jesus tells us, set us free, but not without cost.  Saint Stephen, and later Saint Paul of course, paid for it with their lives, as Jesus did.  But covering over the truth or refusing to speak the truth would have been death of a far worse kind: a death that had no hope of salvation.  Giving his life for the truth and for the faith united Saint Stephen forever with his God, who was his salvation and his joy.

And so on this Christmas day, we are reminded that Christ came to bring the truth, and that that truth would change everything, which, sadly, is not always a welcome thing.  The gift of this Christmas day is the truth, given to us to guard and proclaim and shout without fear.  It is the Spirit who gives us the words of truth to say in any situation, that same Spirit who gave Jesus to Mary in the first place.  We too rely on that same Spirit to help us fearlessly witness to the truth, fixing our eyes as Saint Stephen did on Christ, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

At our core, we all want peace and security in our lives.  We don’t want rough waters, or pain, or discord in our families, and that’s all understandable.  I think it’s that sentiment that is behind our Scripture readings today.

The Jewish people, the elders and the scribes, the religious establishment of the time, had their laws and customs, and for them, following those laws and customs represented a peaceful and secure life.  So they were not at all open to any kind of teaching that challenged their way of life.  Saint Stephen points out that whenever a prophet called them to a deeper reality – a deeper sense of God’s call – rather than accept that teaching and reform their lives, their ancestors instead murdered the prophets.  And so their response was to prove his point.  They could not accept Stephen’s own prophecy that Christ in his glory was the key to human salvation.  So they stone him to death, with the tacit approval of a man named Saul, a man for whom God had future plans.

The crowd in the Gospel reading wants peace and security too.  They had recently been fed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  But they had missed the point.  They wanted just the bread they could eat for today; they didn’t get and didn’t want to get the bread Jesus really wanted them to have – the bread of eternal life.  And so they ask today for another feeding sign.  Just like Moses was able to provide bread from heaven, they wanted Jesus to feed their physical hunger too.  But Jesus is more interested in their spiritual hunger, and longs to provide that in himself, he who is the Bread of Life.

But if all we hunger for is peace and security, bread for today, then we will certainly miss receiving the Bread of Life.  Our hearts have to be open and our desires have to be for the deepest longings.  Then we can receive our Savior who wants to give us everything we truly need.  “I am the Bread of Life;” he says to us.  “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter

Today’s readings

At our core, we all want peace and security in our lives.  We don’t want rough waters, or pain, or discord in our families, and that’s all understandable.  I think it’s that very same sentiment that is behind our Scripture readings today.

The Jewish people, the elders and the scribes, the religious establishment of the time, had their laws and customs, and for them, following those laws and customs represented a peaceful and secure life.  So they were not at all open to any kind of teaching that challenged their way of life.  Stephen points out that whenever a prophet called them to a deeper reality, a deeper sense of God’s call, rather than accept that teaching and reform their lives, their ancestors instead murdered the prophets.  And so their response was to prove his point.  They could not accept Stephen’s own prophecy that Christ in his glory was the key to human salvation.  So they stone him to death, with the tacit approval of a man named Saul, a man for whom God had future plans.

The crowd in the Gospel reading wants peace and security too.  They had recently been fed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  But they had missed the point.  They wanted just the bread they could eat for today; they didn’t get and didn’t want to get the bread Jesus really wanted them to have – the bread of eternal life.  And so they ask today for another feeding sign.  Just like Moses was able to provide bread from heaven, they wanted Jesus to feed their physical hunger too.  But Jesus is more interested in their spiritual hunger, and longs to provide that in himself, he who is the bread of life.

But if all we hunger for is peace and security, bread for today, then we will certainly miss receiving the Bread of Life.  Our hearts have to be open and our desires have to be for the deepest longings.  Then we can receive our Savior who wants to give us everything we truly need.  “I am the bread of life;” he says to us.  “Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

St. Stephen, Deacon & Martyr

Today’s readings

St. Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church, chosen to aid in the distribution of food to those in need, so that the Apostles could continue their work.  He was a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was unafraid to speak the truth.  And that, of course, is what brings him to today’s celebration.  His unwillingness to cover over the truth and his powerful, indisputable words, did not make him friends with everyone, to say the least.  He was stoned to death, an event in which we see perhaps the beginning of the conversion of a man named Saul, who of course, we know, later becomes Paul.

The truth may, as Jesus tells us, set us free, but not without cost.  Stephen, and later Paul of course, paid for it with their lives, as Jesus did.  But covering over the truth or refusing to speak the truth would have been death of a far worse kind: a death that had no hope of salvation.  Giving his life for the truth and for the faith united Stephen forever with his God, who was his salvation and his joy.

And so on this Christmas day, we are reminded that Christ came to bring the truth, and that that truth would change everything, which was not always a welcome thing.  The gift of this Christmas day is the truth, given to us to guard and proclaim and shout without fear.  It is the Spirit who gives us the words of truth to say in any situation, that same Spirit who gave Jesus to Mary in the first place.  We too rely on that same Spirit to help us fearlessly witness to the truth, fixing our eyes as St. Stephen did on Christ, the Son of Man, standing at the right hand of God.

St. John Baptist de la Salle

Today's readings | Today's saint
[display_podcast]

Our celebration today leads us to two great saints.  The first is St. Stephen in today’s first reading.  This is really the beginning of the end of his life.  His courageous words and steadfast commitment to the truth are beginning to find disfavor among some trouble makers.  The members of the “so-called Synagogue of Freedmen” are angry that they could not withstand Stephen’s wisdom, so they are starting to stir up trouble that will eventually lead to Stephen’s execution, but through it all, he finds his glory and peace in Christ.

The second saint is the saint of today’s feast: St. John Baptist de la Salle.  John gave up a promising and rewarding career as a scholar-priest at an influential church, complete with a posh life that would take care of him for the rest of his life.  And he gave it up to work at a ministry he wasn’t all that excited about: educating young people.  Yet, the more he became convinced that this was his life’s calling, the more he dedicated himself to it.  He is the founder of the Christian Brothers, who have a ministry of education all over the world, and is the patron of school teachers. 

His life resonates with St. Stephen in that he too met up with opposition.  He experienced heartrending disappointment and defections among his disciples, bitter opposition from the secular schoolmasters who resented his new and fruitful methods and persistent opposition from the Jansenists of his time, whose heretical doctrines John resisted vehemently all his life.

Dedication to the truth can be a difficult thing to live.  There is always opposition to it.  But as St. Stephen and St. John Baptist de la Salle show us today, there is also joy and peace in it.