Angelus on Feast of St. Stephen
Dear brothers and sisters!
On the day that follows the solemnity of the Nativity of Christ, we celebrate today the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first Christian martyr. At first glance, the pairing of the commemoration of the proto-martyr with the birth of the Redeemer may be surprising, because of the striking contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem, in the first persecution of the nascent Church.
Actually, the apparent contrast is easily overcome if we consider the mystery of the Nativity more deeply. The child Jesus who lies in the cave, is the Only-Begotten Son of God made man. He will save mankind by dying on the Cross. Now, we see Him lying in swaddling clothes on that manger.
After His Crucifixion, he will be wrapped in cloths again and deposited in a sepulcher. It is not by chance that the Christmas icoography has sometimes represented the Divine Newborn laid out in a tiny sarcophagus, to show that the Redeemer is born to die - He is born to give His life in behalf of everyone.
St. Stephen was the first to follow the footsteps of Christ with martyrdom. He died, like the Divine Master, forgiving and praying for his killers (cfr Acts 7,60). In the first four centuries of Christianity, all the saints venerated by the Church were martyrs. One speaks of a numberless host that the liturgy calls 'the shining army of martyrs' - martyrum candidatus exercitus. Their death did not bring on fear and sorrow, but rather the spiritual enthusiasm which in turn gave rise to even more new Christians.
For the believers, the day of death - even more, the day of martyrdom - is not the end of everything, but rather the passage to eternal life - it is the day of definitive birth, in Latin, dies natalis. Now we understand the link between Christ's dies natalis and St. Stephen's dies natalis. If Jesus had not been born on earth, then men cannot be born in heaven. Only because Christ was born is it possible for us to be reborn! Mary, who embraced the Redeemer in her arms in Bethlehem, also suffered an interior martyrdom. She shared His passion, and she would once again take Him in her arms after He is taken down from the Cross.
To this Mother who knew the joy of childbirth and the ordeal of her Divine Son's death, we entrust all those who are persecuted and who suffer in different ways in order to bear witness to the Gospel and to serve it. With a special spiritual nearness, I think of those Catholics who keep their loyalty to Peter's Chair without having to compromise, at times even at the cost of great suffering. All the Church admires their example and we pray that they may have the force to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are sources of victory, even if at the moment, they may seem to be failures.
To all, I wish a Merry Christmas once again. Later, he said this in English: I am happy to greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present for this Angelus.
Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr. His noble death teaches us to be generous of heart, courageous in living our faith and ready to forgive those who harm us. May your stay in Rome renew your love of Christ and his Church. I
I wish you all joy and peace in our Lord and a blessed Christmas Season!
From Papa Ratzi forum