Monday December 26, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of Saint Stephen
Reading (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:17-22)
It has always been to me a point of interest that the first day after Christmas the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. There is clearly a link that the Church is trying to make in our minds between the events we celebrated yesterday and what it is we commemorate today. It is interesting, given the political circumstances in which we are living today, that we would celebrate this feast today, because if you took notice as you drove around over the last days, things were pretty dark; in other words, there was not a whole lot out there anywhere that suggested anything to do with Christmas.
Yesterday I went to a hospital to anoint somebody who was dying. On one of the doors there was a menorah, and it said “Happy Hanukah.” On the other door there was a Santa Claus, and it said “Merry Christmas.” For the Jewish people, the menorah, the candelabra is the symbol of what it is that they are celebrating. That is precisely what Hanukah was all about: the rededication of the temple at the time of the Maccabees and the miraculous lighting of the menorah. But for Christians, instead of anything having to do with the Holy Family, they put up Santa Claus. You see some of these things that go on. For the Jewish people to have a symbol of their religion is perfectly acceptable, but for a Christian it has become nothing more than a secular holiday.
It is always fascinating to me that people who are pagan are more than happy to celebrate Christmas–because it is not a religious holiday anymore. I remember even thirty years ago there was a Buddhist woman who said to me that their Buddhist priest told them to go out and buy a Christmas tree and get gifts and celebrate Christmas. When asked why, he said, “It doesn’t have any religious significance anymore. It’s just a secular holiday.” So we see what is happening in our country.
When Our Lord tells us that there are going to be difficulties and people are going to hand you over, so they did with Stephen, and so they may do with us. But we have to learn two lessons from this. First of all, Our Lord tells us we do not need to worry about what we are going to say; the Holy Spirit will take care of that. That is something that is so important for us to understand. Even with that, we are told, for instance with Stephen, that these people were not able to match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. Now if the Holy Spirit is speaking through us, our natural inclination would be to think that He is going to convert these people who are hearing it. But look at what they did to Stephen. They took him out and stoned him, and that is what gave glory to God. He was the first person to die for his faith in Christ. So it does not necessarily imply that people are going to accept what we are saying, even if it is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Secondly, we have to learn from Stephen, just as we learn from Jesus, what it is that we are supposed to do in the circumstances: to pray for the people who are doing this and to turn to Jesus. But in the meantime, we also need to learn from Stephen what we are to do even before there is any trouble, that is, to give witness to Christ and to give glory to God. Stephen did not care that these people hated him. He said, Look! I see the heavens opened and I see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God the Father. He gave witness to Christ. He did not back down because it was politically incorrect, and he was willing to die for his faith in Christ.
As I have told you before, we have an opportunity now for really the first time as Americans to suffer for our faith. Thanks be to God for that, because now we are going to find out who really is a Catholic and who is not–and that means on every part of what it means to be Catholic, not just “am I going to put up a Christmas tree,” because even the pagans will do that, but “am I going to put my faith on the line, am I going to stand up and give witness to Christ, am I willing to bring Jesus out into the world by the way that I live, by the way that I act, by what I say.” When Christ is hated, that is when we are going to find out who we really are. The rejection for Jesus Christ and the hatred for Him is growing everyday. So we have a choice.
As we watch people walk away from Christ because He is politically incorrect, and we watch other people, which is really the majority of those who would call themselves Christian, as we watch them water down the Faith to make it more palatable for the people who do not want to hear about Jesus to the point that He is just a “nice guy,” we have to look at what we believe. We have to look at all of those who have gone before us who were willing to suffer and die for their faith, and we need to look at Jesus, Who was willing to suffer and die for us so that we could have faith. We have to ask ourselves, as we look at that beautiful little Baby in the manger, “Am I willing to suffer for Him? Am I willing to stand up and be counted with Him? Am I willing to die to myself in order to live for Him? Am I willing to give witness to Him?” These are the kinds of things we have to look at.
Herod wanted to kill Him; that did not stop Him from being born in the place where He was. He could have been born anywhere that He wanted to; He is God. But He walked right into the middle of it. He is God; He could have wiped out the people who crucified Him, but He did not. They wanted to persecute Him, and they did, all the time of His public life. Instead of going someplace else, He allowed the persecution to happen. So it has been throughout history, and so it will be again. It just may be that this time we are the ones who may have the privilege of being able to suffer for Him. Are we willing? How much do we really believe in Christ? How much is our faith worth to us? Are we willing to continue to live our faith in its fullness, even in the face of persecution? Because the persecution has arrived. Jesus Christ is politically incorrect and He is a social stigma in this society. Thanks be to God, because now we have a choice to find out who we really are as Christian people.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.