Living Our Life

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen and for me, a deacon, it is a special feast day.  I make sure to read his account in the Acts of the Apostles. Quite a heroic ‘play’, Stephen out-argues the established intelligentsia, doesn’t fear the outcome (death) and proclaims great words. Usually when I am done I reflect on what he did and whether I could do the same, then I pray for the strength that he had.

All of this is good. But this year I am struck by the idea that his great acts weren’t things he all-of-a-sudden did; his actions are really the result of how he lived his life.  That he fearlessly held to the truth regardless of the outcome was the result of his firm understanding of the truth and that God was with him always.  His, ability to pray for those who gave false witness and those who stoned him wasn’t some great feat of will that he had to dig deep for but came from the daily love of neighbor that he had.  These events in his life were not some heroic self-sacrifice that he rose to, but was the result of another sacrifice that he knew was for him.  He was a loving servant of Christ!

C.S. Lewis wrote: ‘Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.[1] Brothers and sisters, this is the paradigm of a Christian, we recognize the truth of Jesus Christ in which contains the knowledge that Jesus is within everyone. When we can obtain this paradigm then those ‘great acts of heroism’ we are called to are actually just living our life as always.

St. Stephen pray for us.
Merry Christmas!

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[1] C.S. Lewis, ‘The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses’

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Stubborn

This morning we continue with chapter six of St. John’s Gospel.  Where in the other three Gospels we are given careful accounts of the institution of the Eucharist in St. John’s Gospel we don’t; and yet it has been referred to as the most Eucharistic of the Gospels. Chapter six is an important reason for this designation and the section of Chapter six we are listening to is what is called the Bread of Life discourse; in a way you can say that Chapter six contains a theology behind the Eucharist. But today’s readings strike me for another and, sadly, more profoundly human reason.

Today we hear those around Jesus challenge Him to give proof to what He is asserting. ‘What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate Mana in the desert.…[1] For me this is an astonishing challenge.  Just the day before this challenge many of these people witnessed Jesus feed 5,000 men (maybe 10,000 or more people in total) with five loaves and two fish.  His closest companions witnessed this miraculous event; they witnessed His walking on water, and the boat instantly arriving at the far shore.  And now they want proof?!

I am reminded of the closing lines of Psalm 95

Do not grow stubborn as your fathers did in the wilderness,
when at Meriba and Massah
they challenged me and provoked me,
although they had seen all of my works.
Forty years I endured that generation.
I said, “They are a people whose hearts go astray
and they do not know my ways”[2]

Sometimes I marvel at the patience of God. I know, I know, He is God; but still the stubbornness of mankind is just amazing.  Even after what they have they witnessed many will find His words too hard and walk away.

What does Christ have to do – for us to understand and believe?

Well, we know what He did for us.  We have just walked with Him up to the cross and we have celebrated His gift – the chance of salvation.  But as the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles shows us; our hardness of heart continues. ‘You stiff-necked people[3] St. Stephen tells the elders and the scribes. Their stubbornness of heart and mind will result in our First Martyr for the new Church.

However, God is patient – His message will not be stopped – His love is all powerful.  In spite of the horrific actions by the Jewish leaders; Christ’s gift always bears fruit.  On the cross we see Dismas (the good thief) come to believe; and we see a Roman centurion come to believe as well. Now we will see the blood of St. Stephen bear fruit – the young man Saul, who stood in approval of this murder, would become St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles.

We need to be careful not to view these well paired readings as just some historical record of the growth of the church.  These readings can be viewed as a warning call. Each of us need to be ever-vigilant about our belief; we are not immune from doubt. St. Peter in His first letter tells us ‘Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.[4] He is looking to plant doubts in our minds and hearts which will numb us to the words of Christ.

In the next few days how will each of us absorb these readings – will we allow the Holy Spirit to open our minds and hearts to embrace Jesus explanation of His Holy Gift of Himself; or will be entertained?  Will we hear His word and grow in love and adoration of the Eucharistic meal?  Will we allow the blood of Christ to nourish us and bear fruit? Indeed, will our hearts be opened always and everywhere to our Lord Jesus Christ?

Christ told the Father of the boy with a demon: ‘“All things are possible to him who believes.”[5]  Let’s make our own the Father’s prayerful response: ‘“I do believe; help my unbelief!”[6]

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[1] Jn 6:30-31
[2] Ps 95:7b-10
[3] Acts 7:51
[4] 1 Pt 5:8
[5] Mk 9:23b
[6] Mk 9:24