By offering to Jesus the gift of his own life, Saint Stephen, the first martyr, honoured the coming of the King of kings – and showed us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.
That was Pope Francis’ message during the Angelus on the Feast of Saint Stephen. The Holy Father recalled the words of Jesus as He sent his disciples on mission: “You will be hated because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” These words, the Pope said, do not take away from the joy of Christmas, “but strip it of the false, saccharine sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life.” If we are not all called to martyrdom, as Stephen was, nonetheless, the Pope said, “every Christian is called in every circumstance to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.”
Pope Francis acknowledged that following the Gospel is a very demanding path. But, he said, those who follow it “with fidelity and courage” will receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of will – the promise announced by the angels to the shepherds: “on earth, peace to those on whom His favour rests.”
The Pope called for prayers today especially “for all those who are discriminated because of their witness to Christ. He also asked us to pray that “thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty” – which he called “an inalienable right of every person” – would be strengthened in every part of the world.
Following the Angelus, Pope Francis renewed his Christmas greetings and his prayers for peace. He offered a special greeting to everyone named Stephen or Stephanie on their name day – the feast of their patron saint. Pope Francis also thanked all those who had sent him Christmas greetings. He said he was particularly grateful for the gift of prayer, and prayed that the Lord might reward everyone for their generosity.
Finally, Pope Francis returned to the theme of “Christian coherence: that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan.” He prayed that Saint Stephen might give us the grace of Christian coherence.
Below, please find the complete text of Vatican Radio’s translation of Pope Francis’ Angelus address for the Feast of Saint Stephen, 26 December 2014.
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today the liturgy recalls the witness of Saint Stephen. Chosen by the Apostles, together with six others, for the diaconate of charity in the community of Jerusalem, he became the first martyr of the Church. With his martyrdom, Stephen honored the coming into the world of the King of kings, offering to Him the gift of his own life. And so he shows us how to live the fullness of the mystery of Christmas.
The Gospel of this feast gives a part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples in the moment in which He sends them on mission. Among other things, He says, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disrupt the celebration of Christmas, but strip it of that false saccharine-sweetness that does not belong to it. It makes us understand that in the trials accepted on account of the faith, violence is overcome by love, death by life. To truly welcome Jesus in our existence, and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is precisely the one indicated in this Gospel: that is, to bear witness in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current, able to pay in person. And if not all are called, as Saint Stephen was, to shed their own blood, nonetheless, every Christian is called in every circumstance to live a life that is coherent with the faith he or she professes.
Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding path, but those who travel it with fidelity and courage receive the gift promised by the Lord to men and women of good will. At Bethlehem, in fact, the angels announced to the shepherds, “on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests” (Lk 2:14). This peace given by God is able to soothe the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, know to welcome the Word of God and observe it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).
Today let us pray in a special way for all those who are discriminated against because of their witness to Christ. I want to say to each of them: If you carry this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Jesus and of the Church.
Let us pray also that, thanks to the sacrifices of the martyrs of today, the commitment to recognize and concretely to ensure religious liberty — an inalienable right of every human person — would be strengthened in every part of the world.
Dear brothers and sisters, I hope all of you will enjoy a peaceful Christmas feast. May Saint Stephen, Deacon and Proto-martyr, sustain on our daily path all of us, who hope to be crowned, in the end, in the festive assembly of the Saints in paradise.
AFTER THE ANGELUS
Dear brothers and sisters,
I greet you in the joy of Christmas and I renew my best wishes for peace for all of you: peace in families, in parishes and religious communities, in movements, and in associations.
I greet everyone named Stephen or Stephanie: Best wishes!
In these past few weeks I have received so many Christmas greetings from Rome, and elsewhere. Because it is not possible for me to respond to each one, I want to express today my heartfelt thanks for all of them, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you from the heart! May the Lord repay your generosity.
And don’t forget: Christian coherence — that is, thinking, feeling, and living as a Christian. And not to think as a Christian and live like a pagan. Not that! Today let us ask Stephen for the gift of Christian coherence…
And please, continue to pray for me. Don’t forget!
Happy Feast Day, and have a good lunch. Arrivederci!
Source: Vatican Radio