26 December 2009

Stephen Could See that Christ was Alive

Today the Church celebrates the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Saint Augustine received relics of Saint Stephen in the year 424 for his church in Hippo. This homily by Saint Augustine is dated somewhere between 400 to 420.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of our Lord; today we are celebrating the birthday of His servant. We celebrated Christmas as the day on which the Lord was pleased to be born; the birthday we are celebrating of His servant is the one on which he was crowned. We celebrate the birth of the Lord where He received the robe of flesh; we celebrate His servant’s birthday as the day in which he threw aside the garment of his flesh. What we celebrated on the Lord’s birthday was His becoming like us; what we are celebrating on His servant’s birthday is his becoming as close as possible to Christ. Just as Christ, by being born was joined to Stephen, so Stephen by dying was joined to Christ.

The reason the Church marks the days of the birth and the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ with equal devotion, is that each of them is a salutary medicine for us, because He was born in order that we might be born again, and He died that we live forever. The martyrs, however, carrying original sin in birth, came to the fight against evil, and with death they passed over to the most incontestable of goods, putting an end to all sin. If the reward of the bliss didn't comfort them as they faced persecution, when would they ever have endured those various torments of martyrdom? If blessed Stephen, facing that shower of stones, had not thought about the rewards to come, how could he have borne that terrible hailstorm? But he was bearing in mind the instruction of the One Whose presence he could observe in heaven; and reaching out to Him with the most ardent love, he longed to leave his flesh behind as soon as possible, and fly off to Him. He was not afraid to die because he could see that Christ was alive, though he knew He had been slain for his sake; thus he was in a hurry to die for Him, in order to live with Him.

As to what the most blessed martyr saw as he engaged in that final agonizing contest, he could see Jesus standing. The reason He was standing, and not sitting, is that standing up above, and watching from above His soldier battling below, He was supplying him with invincible strength, so that he shouldn’t fall. Blessed indeed the man to whom the heavens lay open! But who opened the heavens? The One about Whom it says in the Apocalypse: “Who opens and nobody shuts; shuts, and nobody opens” (Revelation 3:7). When Adam was thrown out of Paradise, after that first and abominable sin, heaven was shut against the human race; after the Passion of Christ, the thief was the first to enter. Then later on Stephen saw heaven opened. Why should we be surprised? What he saw in faith, he indicated in faith, and took violently by storm.