John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter (www.ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic) wrote an article on December 23 studying Christianity and Catholicism across the globe. It is an interesting read, and I would suggest you take the ten minutes or so to do so at the link above.
In the middle of the article is a piece on the persecution of Christians in the world – and the absence (for all intents and purposes) of any outcry against it. He suggests that the reason most Christians have a hard time getting worked up about this is because few of us have ever lived as a religious minority, nor have we ever really suffered persecution for our faith.
Frankly, I think he may have a point. I also think that in the not too distant future those who faithfully live out their faith will experience persecution – even in the United States. The Church’s teachings on life, marriage and family, justice and the economy are truly counter-cultural nowadays (although they were not in any way contrary to culture only a few decades ago) and for any of us to publicly teach and live out those teachings will require great courage and strength.
That is why we need to read about the martyrs of the faith, both past and present. That is why we need to identify with those outside of our immediate environment. We must come to know those who are suffering in other countries for knowledge is the first step toward charity.
Today is the feast of St. Stephen, called the protomartyr as he was the first martyr of the Church. He was stoned to death for preaching the Gospel, not long after Christ’s death. He was also one of the first seven deacons of the Church ordained by the Apostles.
I was kidding with my pastor yesterday that I thought the Feast of St. Stephen should be a holy day of obligation…. being a deacon and all. He only kindly smiled.
Here is what the Holy Father had to say about St. Stephen today during his Angelus address:
Today we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, deacon and the first martyr of the Church. The historian Eusebius of Cesarea defined Stephen as the “perfect martyr” (Die Kirchengeshichte V, 2.5: GCS II, 1, Lipsia 1903,430), because it is written in the Acts of the Apostles, “Stephen, full of grace and power, performed great works and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). St. Gregory of Nyssa comments, “He was an honest man and full of the Holy Spirit; with goodness of heart he carried out his mission of feeding the poor and with the freedom of the word and the power of the Holy Spirit he closed the mouths of the enemies of the truth” (Sermon on St. Stephen II: GNO X, 1, Leiden 1990, 98). A man of prayer and of evangelization, Stephen, whose name means “crown,” received from God the gift of martyrdoml. In fact, he “full of the Holy Spirit… saw the glory of God” (Acts 7: 55) and while he was stoned, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7: 59). Then, have fallen to his knees, he begged forgiveness for his accusers, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them” (Acts 7: 60). Because of this, the Eastern Church sings the hymn, “The stones have become for you hailstones and stairs rising to heaven… and you have drawn close to the glorious and festive gathering of the angels” (MHNAIA t. II, Roma 1889, 694.695).
To all my brother deacons of the world: Happy Feast Day!