What is the connection between Christmas and the Cross? All of us know that if we want to enter God’s Kingdom we must take up our own crosses and follow in His footsteps. It is because there is no other way to be there than the way of the cross. This is Jesus’ expectation of His disciples if we follow Him, that is, to carry one’s cross with courage and hope. And if we look at the main reason why Jesus became man like us was to save and redeem us from sin and death and to give us a new life as the adopted children of God. This is the connection why Jesus was born and died for us.
Today’s saint is the first Christian martyr of the Church that died for Christ. We might ask why we celebrate his feast on the day after Christmas where we are still filled with joy and have sentimental thoughts about the Christmas. This is to remind us of why Jesus came. We see that the Christmas scene is not just something about the baby Jesus but the beginning of a life that would end up on the Cross. The coming of Jesus is a call to commitment or if not, a call to martyrdom. We call St. Stephen a prototype martyr because he sets us an example on how to follow and die for Jesus. That to be truly a martyr, it is not enough to be killed because of Jesus but we must die as Jesus died. John Paul II said: “Today, in the evocative framework of Christmas, we remember St Stephen, the first martyr. His history provides an opportunity to reflect on the deep meaning of Christmas, already illuminated by the paschal mystery of Christ´s death and Resurrection. The Proto-martyr´s example of faithful adherence to Him encourages us to witness without compromise to the Gospel values, in the certainty that only in unreserved adherence to God´s word and in the generous gift of self to our brothers and sisters, do we reach life´s fullness and authenticity,” (Angelus, December 26, 1995).
Following the example of the Lord, St. Stephen offered his spirit to God. He said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” (Acts 7:59). He prayed too for forgiveness for those who killed him: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” (Acts 7:60). Therefore, a Christian martyr does not die consumed by hatred and crying for vengeance. His love for Christ overflows to those who persecute him. He also perfectly imitated Jesus Christ by trusting God and forgiving one’s enemies.
Few of us will have the opportunity to be martyred for the Catholic faith. But if we are faithful to Christ, we will have a different form of martyrdom like: the daily grind and the daily demands of love and self-giving to our children, friends and co-workers. The little and constant acts of charity perform with a lot of love make us spill our blood drop by drop, day after day in a quiet and often unnoticed way. Christ notices our little sacrifices and He blesses these efforts. We need to remember the saying: “there is no redemption without blood.”
It is also our task to trust God and forgive our enemies. But we cannot do that if we stay in our comfort zone and have done nothing to go to the one we hurt. Trust in God and forgiveness of our enemies must be practiced daily in order for these to become our habits. So that when we are facing death, it will be easy for us to continue doing so.
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