“The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” – Tertullian
I remember the story of Saint Stephen vividly from my elementary school religion class. A disciple of Christ, he proclaimed the good news and was brought before the Sanhedrin. He refused to recant about Jesus and so he was condemned by none other than Saul who would later convert and become one of the greatest Apostles. Even as he was stoned to death Stephen praised God and forgave his executors. The whole story is told in one chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
The story is very similar to that of Christ: a man falsely accused, put to death, yet forgiving his enemies. The lesson is that anyone, even the fully human, can follow the path of Christ. It’s a tough lesson, because it is a hard choice to make to lay down one’s life for one’s faith.
Stephen is the first martyr and thus his feast day was placed near the day of Christ’s nativity. Because of the proximity to Christmas, St. Stephen’s day is celebrated in many countries as a holiday in it’s own right, akin ot Boxing Day. This includes Ireland where on St. Stephen’s Day children celebrate the Wren Dance. The events of one of my favorite Christmas carols “Good King Wenceclaus” take place on the Feast of Stephen, in which the Czech saint gives alms and miraculously rescues his page. Another favorite song of mine, “St. Stephen” by the Grateful Dead lyrically appears to have nothing to do with the saint, but is a good song nonetheless.
More on St. Stephen can found at Catholic Encyclopedia, Catholic Online, and Saint of the Day.
Happy St. Stephen’s Day!