Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

December 26 ~ Feast of Stephen ~ Proto-martyr, Archdeacon, Reconciler and Waiter




"Good King Wenseslaus looked out on the Feast of Stephen." That's today! The Feast of St. Stephen the First Martyr is the day after Christmas. The first feast celebrated by the early Christians was Easter of course, and then every Sunday celebrated as a little Easter, and then the days martyr's went home to heaven. Christmas wasn't put on the Christian calendar for a few centuries. So today the priest wears red at Mass - not because it's Christ-masy, but to remember the first martyr.

The account of Stephen the deacon is found in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6:1 - 8:60). And in that story, long before we're told anything about his martyrdom, we're told two other very important things about him.

Seems that in the very early days of the Christian common life there was already an argument: people complaining to the apostles that the Greek speaking widows weren't being taken care of properly in the daily distribution of food. So the people put forward the names of a few men who would wait on table so the apostles could be free for their prayer and preaching. So the first thing to know about Stephen was that he was a reconciler. He spoke Greek and was able to navigate well enough to solve the problem.

Spending some days in an Italian monastery I found myself one Sunday after Mass standing in a circle of European men with young Brother Marie Luke, who was simultaneously translating English, Spanish, Italian and French so that no one would feel left out of the conversation. Afterwards I asked him about his language skills and he answered: It's important to know the languages of the neighbors." Reconcile doesn't just mean to patch things up after an argument but to harmonize, to balance, to syncretize. Reconcilers are bridge-builders. 

And Stephen waited on table. "If you want to be great, serve the rest," Jesus teaches (Matthew 20:25). I used to tell the young people at school that if Jesus were to return and come to our school, he wouldn't make a bee line to the main office to talk with the administration, the family leaders or department chairs, but he'd look to find Michelle, who cleaned the toilets, mopped the floors and emptied the wastebaskets. Or he'd find the two old men who loaded up the truck faithfully every morning to haul the ton of garbage we produced. 

All the pictures of Stephen show his martyrdom: a hail of huge stones pouring down on his anguished head. Even the painting here shows him on a better day, but he's still holding the palm branch of martyr-victory and a stone's landed on the top of his head. Some artist out there might just show him talking to a Greek woman with a bread basket at his feet or over his arm. 

And while Stephen and Jesus likely never met, the young man knew all about Jesus and his teaching. There's a non-denominational prayer book that suggests singing the African American song, "Woke up this mornin" on Stephen's Feast Day. I've put the link here so we can get into it. Some people don't like it when I make seemingly critical comments about the Catholic Church - they think I'm being subversive or inciting a revolt to take down the Church. Not at all - I just want our Church to get down (real deep) to the fundamental thing of loving Jesus like this preacher man and his devoted, on-fire-for-Jesus congregation. Click here below.

"I woke up this morning" Rayshan Booker

Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...
Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...
Woke up this mornin' with my mind stayin' on Jesus...
hallelu-,
hallelu-,
hallelujah.

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this little lesson on St. Stephen and this uplifting hymn. It is good to see how others worship the Lord so joyfully.

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  2. Happy belated feast day, Fr Stephen! Love the spiritual! Pulls me out of the lows!

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