Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr
It is commonly accepted among scripture scholars that the stories of Jesus’ birth and infancy were the last parts of the gospels to be written. As the early Christians tried to grasp the meaning of Christ, they first reflected on his death and resurrection. In stages, they looked back to understand his teaching and eventually his origins.
The story of Stephen has to do with the infancy of the Church. Stephen’s martyrdom happened in the earliest days of the Church, but only later did Christians see in that story their identity and origins. No doubt, at the time of Stephen’s martyrdom, disciples were bewildered that the Messiah’s Good News evoked hostility and resistance in people. Only later would they realize that suffering and death were an integral part of the Church’s coming of age. As Tertullian said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Sacrifice, suffering, and death belong to the end of Jesus’ life and its beginning. In his birth were many predictions of his death. We who follow him should not be surprised by the suffering and sacrifice that are a part of our life. These are not signs of failure to follow Christ but unite us with him all the more, as St. Stephen recognized. Our witness of sacrifice today will bear fruit in faithfulness and hope for years to come.
Reflection by Abbot Benedict Neenan, OSB