The Sifted

for Wednesday, December 26th, 2016
Feast of St. Stephen the Martyr

Liturgical texts here

St. Stephen the Martyr, Bernardo Cavallino (d. 1656)


To be a martyr is to feel the storm coming and willingly to endure it at the call of duty, for Christ’s sake, and for the good of the brethren. —Blessed John Henry Newman, from Magnificat, Dec. 26th, 2016


IT may seem odd that, the very next day after the joyful feast of Christmas Day, we commemorate the martyrdom of the first professed Christian. And yet, it is most fitting, because this Babe whom we adore is also a Babe whom we must follow—from the crib to the Cross. While the world races to the nearest stores for “Boxing Day” sales, Christians are called on this day to flee from the world and refocus their eyes and hearts upon eternity. And that requires a renewed renunciation of self—most especially, the renunciation of being liked, accepted, and blended into the landscape of the world. And this all the more as those who hold fast to moral absolutes and Sacred Tradition today are being labeled as “haters”, “rigid”, “intolerant”, “dangerous”, and “terrorists” of the common good.

Under such circumstances, the stoutest hearts are in danger of failing… They yield to the incessant annoyance which the apprehension of persecution and the importunity of friends inflict on them. They sigh for peace; they gradually come to believe that the world is not so wrong as some men say it is, and that it is possible to be over-strict… They learn to temporize and to be double-minded… as an additional argument for concession to those that remain firm as yet, who of course feel dispirited, lonely, and begin to doubt the correctness of their own judgment…. those who have fallen, in self-defense, become their tempters. —Blessed John Henry Newman, Ibid. 

Perhaps many of you already know of what I speak—having spent or are spending time with relatives who reject the Gospel or, at least, refashion it in their own image and liking. Yes, I know, you want the holidays to be peaceful and amicable. But today’s Gospel reminds us that, though we strive for peace with all, it is sometimes not possible —not when it demands that we compromise our faith:

Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. 

In fact, it is a great sign when you are despised because of your faith in Jesus! Blessed are you who are persecuted, Our Lord said. It is a sure sign that the Spirit of God, the Seal and promise of eternity, lives in you.

…they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which [Stephen] spoke. When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. (Today’s first reading)

When this happens, we are tempted to back off, to “keep the peace.” But if we compromise the truth, we will have denied Jesus who is “the truth” and find ourselves sifted from the flock, cowering with those Apostles who fled Gethsemane and denied His name. What we should never back off from is not only the truth, but a spirit of gentleness, patience, and love. [1]cf. 1 Peter 3:16 I have often found it is not what I say, but how I say it that moves and convinces my adversaries. Nonetheless, as we see in today’s Mass readings, it is this very Spirit of Jesus in Stephen that cost him the respect, admiration, and approval of his listeners…

…They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.

But this gained for him an eternal crown of glory. 

…he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God…

Today, then, is the day to which we too must “look up intently” toward heaven; to put our lives, possessions, security, and fears into perspective, and to strike up our courage once again for the sake of the King of kings. So few are those today who are faithful to Jesus Christ in the entirety of the Catholic Faith! They are a remnant. But a blessed remnant indeed. 

Thus the Church is sifted, the cowardly falling off, the faithful continuing firm, though in dejection and perplexity. Among these latter are the martyrs; not accidental victims, taken at random, but the picked and choice ones, the elect remnant, a sacrifice well pleasing to God… men who have been warned what to expect from their profession, and have had many opportunities of relinquishing it, but have borne and had patience, and for Christ’s sake have laboured, and have not fainted. Such was Saint Stephen…. —Blessed John Henry Newman, Ibid. 

Be my rock of refuge, a stronghold to give me safety… Rescue me from the clutches of my enemies and my persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness. (Today’s Psalm)


Bless you and thank you.


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1. cf. 1 Peter 3:16

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