Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today on the day after Christmas the Church marks the celebration of the Feast of St. Stephen, the Protomartyr or the very first Martyr of the Church. St. Stephen was the very first one to die for his faith in the Lord, as a Christian, which is what the definition of a martyr is. St. Stephen was killed in cold blood by those who refused to believe in the Lord and in all the testimony of faith that he has passionately made before all the assembly of the people.

We may then be wondering why is it that we celebrate the feast of a Martyr and his painful death at the hands of the enemies of the Lord and the faithful when it is just right the day after the joyous celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord or Christmas day. In fact, we are still within the joyful season of Christmas that began just yesterday with Christmas day. Then why do we celebrate this feast of the first martyr of the Church? That is because it serves as an important reminder for us that while we rejoice this Christmas season we must not forget what Christmas stands for.

St. Stephen suffered and died because of his courage and dedication in standing up for the truth, for his belief in the Lord Jesus Christ, His salvation and Resurrection. He testified courageously of the Lord and His mission, His truth and salvation before the many people who were assembled before him as described in our first reading passage today. He was accused falsely of blasphemy and other wrongdoings by his enemies who produced false witnesses and testimonies, much like how the Lord Himself had suffered.

Yet, despite the mounting opposition against him and the anger of those who had opposed him and his ministry, St. Stephen remained steadfast and courageous, and spoke with great wisdom, of the Holy Spirit to all those gathered. He spoke openly of all that the Lord had promised and then fulfilled through Christ, the same Jesus Christ Who had been condemned to death, crucified and then later on Risen from the dead. He testified before everyone that everything are true and are exactly as promised by the Lord.

For this faith, dedication and courage, St. Stephen was attacked by those who still hardened their hearts against God, who refused to accept the Lord Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. He was condemned to death and was stoned by all the people who wanted him dead. With his last breath, St. Stephen imitated the Lord’s example, forgiving all those who have killed him and made him suffer, praying to God not to hold their sins against them. And hence, St. Stephen passed on into heavenly glory, received the crown of glory and immortality for his steadfast defence of his faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all these are reminders for us that while we rejoice greatly this Christmas, we must not lose focus on what Christmas is all about. Christmas is all about Christ, His salvation and the love that He has shown us. He was willing to come to us, to share in our humanity and to dwell among us. He reached out to us and touched our hearts and minds, seeking His lost sheep, all of us, from among the nations. And we celebrate this joy He brought into the world by His birth in Bethlehem.

Those who stoned St. Stephen to death refused to accept the truth that Jesus was the Messiah or Saviour of the world, and many of them even considered Him as a blasphemer and sinner. But this was because of their stubbornness and refusal to open their hearts and minds to God. If only that they had opened themselves to the Lord, then they might have accepted Him and embraced Him. Nonetheless, as we can see, both the Lord and St. Stephen forgave all of them and prayed for their sake. In the end, everyone even the worst of sinners and those who have disobeyed the Lord, are still deserving of God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Now, brothers and sisters in Christ, as we go through this season of Christmas, are we making our lives as Christ-centric as possible? Have we been proclaiming our Lord Jesus Christ through our lives and through how we have been celebrating Christmas? If our celebrations have been mostly about ourselves and about the glamour of worldly, secular Christmas, then we should remind ourselves of the courage with which St. Stephen had lived his life and carried out his Christian ministry. Can we follow in his footsteps and be inspired by his zeal and faith, brethren?

Let us all make our Christmas celebrations be less about ourselves but rather more of a celebration of God’s love, and let us all share the joy that we have with each other especially with those who have difficulty celebrating Christmas and all those who have been sorrowful and despairing during this year. Let us lift one another and encourage each other through these difficult times, and make our Christmas a more meaningful and truly joyful one by embracing fully our Christian faith and reorientate our celebration and focus on Christ.

May the Lord be with us always, and be our Guide through this Christmas season and beyond. And may St. Stephen be our intercessor and role model always, in everything, that we may draw ever closer to the Lord by imitating and following the examples of courage, wisdom and dedication that St. Stephen had shown for his Lord and Saviour, the same Christ born and celebrated in Christmas. Amen.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 10 : 17-22

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of Me, so you may witness to them and the pagans.”

“But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn again parents and have them put to death.”

“Everyone will hate you because of Me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 30 : 3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

Be a Rock of refuge for me, a Fortress for my safety. For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, lead me for Your Name’s sake.

Into Your hands I commend my spirit; You have redeemed me, o Lord, faithful God. I will rejoice and be glad in Your love, for You have seen my affliction.

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, from those after my skin. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me in Your love.

Saturday, 26 December 2020 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, also known as the Protomartyr or the first Martyr of the Church. This came about because as recorded in the early part of the Acts of the Apostles, as we heard in our first reading today, this courageous and faithful servant of God faced great suffering and martyrdom just shortly after the establishment of the Church.

St. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen by the Apostles of the Lord to be those who were commissioned and ordained as Deacons, the originators and the first members of the venerable Holy Order of the Diaconate, as those who were tasked with the care of the needs of the faithful and the distribution of the common goods of the Church, helping the Apostles in their works and ministries.

St. Stephen was one of the seven men chosen from among the faithful, and he was a great and dedicated servant of God, filled with the grace of God and with the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, which became evident as he stood trial for the false accusations of blasphemy that were levelled against him by those who deemed him and other Christians as enemies and threats. St. Stephen defended the truth of God courageously and with great wisdom before the Sanhedrin or the council of the elders of the Jewish people.

St. Stephen spoke at great lengths on the history of God’s saving works among His people and His plan for the salvation of us all. He spoke courageously and without fear on the arrival of the Messiah in Jesus Christ, Whom the Sanhedrin had just recently rejected and sent to Pontius Pilate to be condemned to death on the Cross. St. Stephen spoke of how God has performed His wonders and works of salvation despite the rejection and stubbornness showed by His people.

St. Stephen was hated and attacked because he courageously stood up for the truth, and he mentioned exactly what the Lord Himself had said when He was on trial before the Sanhedrin, that the Son of Man is seated at the right hand of God, which made the members of the Sanhedrin to become even angrier at him. They attacked and stoned St. Stephen to death, which he accepted gracefully, forgiving his enemies and killers just as the Lord Himself had done.

We may be wondering why we remember the painful and terrible martyrdom of one of God’s faithful servants just right after the joyful celebrations of Christmas. But in fact, this is a timely reminder for us all that Christmas itself cannot exist and do not have its full significance without linking it to the greater scheme of the whole plan of God’s salvation, and that includes the Passion, the suffering, death and eventually Resurrection of the Lord.

The same Child born in Bethlehem more than two millennia ago and celebrated every year in Christmas is the very same One Who in just thirty-three years later, would bear the most painful and terrible burden of the Cross. It was because of what happened during the Passion and the Resurrection of the Lord that made Christmas fully meaningful, for the Child born and celebrated on Christmas day is then not just like any other children, but the Child destined to be the Saviour of the world.

And to become the followers of Christ just as St. Stephen had done, and many others of our holy predecessors had done, it requires us to be ready to face persecution, oppression, rejection, suffering and all sorts of things that Our Lord Himself had endured. If the world has rejected the Son of God and its Saviour, the Lord Jesus Himself said that the same will also happen to those who follow Him.

Indeed, not all the time we will face trials and challenges. Throughout the long history of the Church there had been good times and moments too, when people enthusiastically welcomed the truth and salvation of God, kingdoms and nations were converted to the true faith among many other examples, but this must not then make us forget of the many sacrifices and challenges that our predecessors including that of St. Stephen had to endure throughout the history of the Church and the works of God’s salvation.

Today we celebrate this feast in honour of St. Stephen because we remember the courage he has shown and faith he has in the Lord, that he willingly endured the painful suffering and martyrdom for the sake of the Lord and His people, in becoming great witness of his faith. And at the same time we are also reminded that as Christians, all of us who believe in Christ, the Child born the Saviour of the world that we have just celebrated at Christmas, we must be ready to defend our faith in the manner that St. Stephen had done, not with confrontation or violence, but with wisdom of God.

The Lord Himself in our Gospel passage kind of foretold what would happen to St. Stephen and many others of His followers, as they would suffer for Him. And yet, He also reassured them of His providence and protection, and how the Holy Spirit Himself will be upon them all, giving them the strength, courage and wisdom, as what we have evidently seen in St. Stephen the holy martyr. Are we able to follow in his footsteps?

As we progress through this Christmas season therefore, let us all always remember the strength and spirit of St. Stephen in committing himself to the Lord, and let us all therefore always remember that Christmas and all of its joys came about because of the Lord Jesus, our Saviour, Who should be at the very centre and focus of all of our celebration and happiness in this blessed season.

Shall we renew our faith and rededicate ourselves to God this Christmas season, by endeavouring to love first of all, God with greater love and fidelity, and then also our fellow brothers and sisters, sharing our wonderful blessings and joy, the joy of Christmas, with one another? May the Lord continue to be with us and watch over us, His beloved people, and may He bless us all in our works and deeds. Amen.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Matthew 10 : 17-22

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “Be on your guard with people, for they will hand you over to their courts, and they will flog you in their synagogues. You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings because of Me, so you may witness to them and the pagans.”

“But when you are arrested, do not worry about what you are to say, or how you are to say it; when the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say. For it is not you who will speak, but the Spirit of your Father in you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and a father his child; children will turn again parents and have them put to death.”

“Everyone will hate you because of Me, but whoever stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Psalm 30 : 3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17

Be a Rock of refuge for me, a Fortress for my safety. For You are my Rock and my Stronghold, lead me for Your Name’s sake.

Into Your hands I commend my spirit; You have redeemed me, o Lord, faithful God. I will rejoice and be glad in Your love, for You have seen my affliction.

Deliver me from the hand of my enemies, from those after my skin. Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me in Your love.

Thursday, 26 December 2019 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Acts 6 : 8-10 and Acts 7 : 54-59

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. Some persons then came forward, who belonged to the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen from Cyrene, Alexandria, Cilicia and Asia. They argued with Stephen but they could not match the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.

When the Council heard the reproach Stephen made against them, they were enraged and they gnashed their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Sunday, 2 June 2019 : Seventh Sunday of Easter, World Communications Sunday (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Acts 7 : 55-60

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus at God’s right hand, so he declared : “I see the heavens open and the Son of Man at the right hand of God.”

But they shouted and covered their ears with their hands and rushed together upon him. They brought him out of the city and stoned him, and the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen prayed saying : “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Then he knelt down and said in a loud voice : “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he died.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018 : Feast of St. Stephen, Protomartyr (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Red

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day, the day after the Christmas day, every year, we celebrate the feast of the holy Protomartyr, St. Stephen. St. Stephen was one of the original seven deacons chosen by the Church, to be ministers to God’s people, as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, and he was a person filled with grace, and with wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit. In the Acts of the Apostles, the story of his last stand and defence for the faith, and his martyrdom were written, how he eloquently stood up for the Lord before his accusers, and accepted death with faith.

We must be wondering why is it that in such a time and season filled with joy and celebration that is this Christmas, then suddenly just right the day after the glorious and joyous day that is Christmas itself, then we are celebrating the feast of a great martyr of the faith, whose account of his suffering and death was truly one that is terrible and painful at the same time. He was falsely accused by his enemies and all those who sought to silence him, and was stoned to death.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the reason why we celebrate the painful death of a great martyr of the Church, the first to be martyred after the foundation of the Church, and hence, St. Stephen’s title of protomartyr, is because we must remember, that Christmas in itself, all the joy and celebration associated with it, is far more than all the revelries and celebrations that we often associate with Christmas, in how this world celebrate Christmas.

In truth, as we all should have known, Christmas is all about Christ and His coming into this world, with a special mission, and that is the salvation of us all. He is God, Who willingly embraced us mankind, by humbling Himself to take up the form and appearance of Man, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of His mother Mary. He was born into this world, God Who became incarnate into Man, Son of God and Son of Man, two distinct and yet inseparable natures, in the person of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It is this truth which St. Stephen had to suffer and die for, the truth that the Messiah has come, as God Himself, incarnate in the flesh, fully God and yet at the same time also fully Man. He proclaimed before the people gathered, the truth about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, Whom they have rejected and crucified, and yet, Whom St. Stephen proclaimed to be the Saviour that God had promised His people, and Who had not died, but rose from the dead into His heavenly glory.

The Pharisees, the teachers of the Law and many of those who refused to believe in Christ and His truth, were angered by St. Stephen’s wisdom and revelation before them, his stand for his faith and for his God and Saviour, even when faced with a certainty of death amidst the throng and many people who wanted his death for the supposed blasphemy. St. Stephen courageously stood by his faith and became inspiration for countless generations of Christians even to this very day.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, today, as we continue to progress through the season of Christmas, we ought to reflect on the life and the works of St. Stephen, his love for God and his courageous stand for his faith in Him. How can St. Stephen have that courage to stand before his many accusers and all those who were obviously hostile against him and his faith in God? That was because St. Stephen had great faith and love for God.

He truly believed in the salvation which Christ had brought with Him, Who emptied Himself of all glory and majesty, to suffer a most painful death on the cross, all for the sake of the salvation of us, His beloved people. And although St. Stephen knew that the people who went up against him were unlikely to listen to him, but he did what he could, and what he must do, in proclaiming the truth about the Messiah.

In the end, conversion did come for some among them, most importantly and prominently, St. Paul the Apostle, whom in his previous persona of Saul, was one of those who stoned St. Stephen to death. God called Saul, and he went through conversion to the faith, and became like St. Stephen, in devoting the rest of his life to God, and suffered martyrdom in Rome for his courageous faith.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of us should realise that Christmas is a reminder for us, that we are all those who believe in God, Who came into this world as a Man, as a Child born in the town of Bethlehem, Who has come to save the world, and yet many refused to believe in Him, persecuted and rejected Him as well as His disciples and followers. Throughout the history of the Church, many thousands and more have suffered from their devotion and faith to God, even to this very day.

Therefore, let us all pray, that our brethren in faith who are still constantly persecuted for their faith in various parts of the world, will remain strong in their commitment to God, and will not fall away from the faith. And let us also remain strong and committed ourselves, in our faith, by living our lives with true love and sincere faith in God, by sharing our Christmas joy with one another, especially with those who are in need and are suffering.

St. Stephen, holy martyr of the Church, the first of those in the Church who died because of your faith in God, pray for us all sinners, pray for each and every one of us, that by your intercession, we too may be strengthened in faith, and that we may live our lives ever more faithfully and ever closer to God, our loving Father. Amen.