“God writes straight with crooked lines…”

If I were worthy of such a favor from my God,
I would ask that he grant me this one miracle:
that by His grace He would make of me a good man.

Saint Ansgar

What a marvelous desire—simply that God would make me good.

And oh what a miracle that would be.

For in this wish, is the knowledge that said goodness will not come by my own hands nor
by my own works…
but rather, only by the hand of God’s Grace and God’s Grace alone…
and thus a miracle beyond my mortal bounds

That such a goal should be my sole aim, my sole prayer…in this life…
that God would work to make me good…

Nothing grand, nothing special, nothing newsworthy, nothing glamorous…
neither rich, nor beautiful, nor thin, nor even particularly healthy…
nor powerful, nor smart, nor gifted…
but simply…good.

For the past couple of days, a few of the saints from day’s gone by,
have crossed my 21st-century path.
The other day it was St Boniface, today it’s St Ansgar.

And not that any of those brave men and women,
those who helped to forge our faith into what it is today,
are ever very far from me— my thoughts, my observations or my recollections…
it’s just that when God throws a few of those stalwart souls before the steps of my path,
that obviously, I must stop and pay attention…
for with God, there are no accidents.

Saints, mind you, are not individuals who would have ever claimed, nor claim today,
themselves to be such…
More realistically they were, as the familiar expression goes, ordinary people,
doing extraordinary things…

Many were actually sickly and feeble of body, others, such as our dear St Peter, had moments
that were less than stellar, in fact, moments that screamed of deep character flaws.

But whoever said God wasn’t able to make those silk purses from the ears of swine?

He’s good that way…and I am most grateful!

For it seems that there are days, that I am more often than not,
content to spend my time lounging in the pigstye.

Yet this loving Father continues reaching into that nasty pit in order to pull me from the
odious mud, working to clean me off as He nudges me forward…

Only to watch me, bewildered I would imagine, time and time again running back to
the comfort of the mudstye…as I readily put off once again His agenda at hand.

But I don’t think God is ever bewildered as He already knows my choices and my decisions…
just as He persistently continues cleaning and nudging.

So today I must confess that St Boniface is much more recognizable to me than St Ansgar.

In fact, I had never heard of St Ansgar before today.
But it seems that he is known as “the apostle of the North”
North being Scandinavia.

He is also known as the patron saint of Denmark.

Now when I think of Scandinavia, I think of Vikings…and if we know anything about Vikings,
it’s that they were not the most peace-filled, warm and fuzzy, full embracing sort of individuals
one would want to actually encounter.

Theirs was a deeply rich and entrenched culture immersed in the notion of the Norse gods
and Valhalla.
The raging sea and the cold of their lands.
Throw in some plundering, pillaging and raping and you had the warrior clans of the North.

I can only imagine the trepidation about having to head into their territory to spread the Gospel
of the One Omnipotent God and the saving Grace found in His resurrected Son.

There were language barriers, cultural barriers, a climate barrier, a customs barrier,
a physical appearance barrier, and most importantly, an end-goal barrier—as in a Viking’s
end goal in life was not that of a Chrisitan missionary’s end goal.

Mongering and surviving vs converting.

Ansgar (801-865) who lived about 200 years following St Boniface, was much like Boniface
in that neither man lived long enough to see the fruits of their labors come to fruition.

Neither of the groups of soul’s hearts who they had been instructed to go forth and turn,
had their hearts turned during the lifetime of either of these Godly men.

Oh, there were the brief time periods of peace, hope and redemption…but nothing
permanent and long lasting…not until others followed in the footsteps of
these determined men many years later. Along a path that these men had bravely cut.

Yet neither man saw their life’s work as a waste of time.
The key was that they were doing what God had sent them to do.
God did not tell either man there would be success and glory in the end…
they each simply prayed that God would lead and they, in turn, would follow.

They had prayed to do God’s will…not their will, not their desires, but rather God’s…
and so they lived their lives doing just that.
One being martyred at the hands of those he wished to turn and the other dying after
seeing his life’s work destroyed by the very souls he yearned to turn.

History records what people do, rather than what they are.
Yet the courage and perseverance of men and women like Ansgar can only come from a
solid base of union with the original courageous and persevering Missionary.
Ansgar’s life is another reminder that God writes straight with crooked lines.
Christ takes care of the effects of the apostolate in his own way;
he is first concerned about the purity of the apostles themselves.

(excerpt from https://vitaesanctorum.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/saint-ansgar/ )

So we are reminded that no matter what He has to work with, God will always write straight…by that which will never seem straight in the eyes of the world— and it is there inwhich lies our prayer…that
by His Grace, He may make us good…

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me.
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

what are you willing to die for

“You cannot turn me from my holy Faith by threats, nor with promises of riches and pleasures.
I will obey your orders willingly, if you will leave me free to follow my religion.
I would rather surrender my head to you than to change my faith.
I was born a Christian, and I shall die a Christian.”

+ St. John the Russian


(lingering pomergarnite / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2018)

The definition of the word martyr, according to Merriam Webster is: a person who voluntarily
suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing to renounce a religion.

When we think of individuals who fit that description…we think of those individuals
who reach out to us from various Biblical tales.
We recall the stories of individuals who were tried and sentenced to death
for their faith in God, people like Daniel in the lion’s den—
or of Mesach, Shadrach, and Abednego along with King Nebuchadnezzar who decreed
having them thrown into the furnace…
We think of the stories of those individuals who refused to recant their belief in
the Omnipotent God.

Stories that are both far away and long ago.

And so in turn, we know from our Biblical history teachings that St Stephen was the first
recorded Christian martyr—
a man who refused to renounce his Christian faith, that of his belief in Jesus Christ…
with the near obvious result being his death…
and in Stephen’s case, it was by stoning.

The New Testament is laced with such stories—the stories of those who
suffered and died for refusing to denounce Jesus Christ as the Risen Son of God.

Yet today when we hear the word martyr or martyrdom, our 21st-century minds focuses in
on radical extremists…radical Islamic suicide bombers who offer themselves,
their lives, in order to kill as many other people as possible.
Not like the Christian who simply stands firm in his or her faith.

Christian martyrs are still being killed worldwide…
They die more or less quietly as their deaths are not publicized or are of common knowledge—
in part because they die in places where news of such is very hidden and or controlled.
Their deaths do not make the papers or the evening news.
Their deaths are not the headline gripping stories of deaths carried out by those who
prefer to kill mass numbers of people due to a skewed faith…

Many in the West, members of the Christian faith along with nonbelievers,
erroneously assume that Christian martyrdom ended with the fall of Rome…
due in part because the deaths of martyred Christians
does not make the nightly news or is not sprawled across the headlines.

The tales of imprisonment, tortures, and deaths of today’s Christians are not on the level
of breaking news as are those of the martyred Islamists because of the flip-flopped
extremist’s view of martyrdom.
Whereas the radical kills hundreds in one act—the countless numbers of tortured and
martyred Christians go virtually unnoticed.

However what we do know is that an Islamic Martyr sacrifices self in order to kill
while the Christian martyr is killed because he or she will not recant their faith…
and often is killed because of an attempt to protect others…
certainly not to harm others.

A vast difference.

Today most Westerners, and again that would be both Believers and non Believers,
does not feel a life or death threat or link to or for any martyred Christians
simply because the notion of a martyred Christians is not currently taking place.
Or at least that’s what we assume.

We aren’t still stoning or curcifying a person because they claim to be a Christian,
are we???

But what many in our society do not realize is that just because we live in an oh so
very modern society, there are indeed places still around the globe where Christians
are being stoned to death and even crucified for their faith despite our thinking
such barbarism disappeared eons ago.

Yet we read of IS and of the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians and
we occasionally hear a word of those who are killed for their faith in places
like North Korea, China, Myramar…but not here we will gloat, not where life
is civilized…right?

Yet what we fail to both see and understand is that the persecution of the Christian
in our Western Society is very much real…. however it is more hidden,
more insidious and quietly more subtle than those types of murders and deaths of those
Christians from either our history books or of those in far-flung regions of the world.

It would behoove us to realize that just because we consider ourselves “civilized” and
above the torture and or persecution of individuals for their Christian belief,
we should stop and take notice that there is one who is very much aware of the fact that
there is indeed such persecution taking place…
as such acts are carried out in a much more hidden and sinister type of execution…
And this individual is much more keenly aware of such…much more so than any human being.
And He couldn’t be more excited…

Abba [St] Athanasios, bishop of Alexandria, said:
“One of you often says: ‘Where is the persecution so I can be martyred?’
Suffer martyrdom in your conscience; die to sin;
‘Mortify your members which are upon the earth’ [cf. Col 3:5]
and you will have become a martyr by intention.

Those [former martyrs] fought with emperors and rulers;
you have the devil, the emperor of sin, for adversary and demons for rulers.
For at that time a shrine and an altar stood before them and an abomination
of idolatry, an execrable idol.

Take careful thought;
even today there is an altar and a sanctuary and a virtual execrable idol in the soul.
An altar, that is luxurious gluttony; a sanctuary, the longing for delights;
an idol, the spirit of covetousness.

St Stephens Day

You desire that which exceeds my humble powers,
but I trust in the compassion and mercy of the All-powerful God.

Saint Stephen


(portion of the Demidoff Altarpiece 1476 / The National Gallery / London, England)

In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke praises St. Stephen as
“a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” who
“did great wonders and signs among the people”
during the earliest days of the Church.

Luke’s history of the period also includes the moving scene of Stephen’s death –
witnessed by St. Paul before his conversion –
at the hands of those who refused to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Stephen himself was a Jew who most likely came to believe in Jesus
during the Lord’s ministry on earth. He may have been among the 70 disciples
whom Christ sent out as missionaries, who preached the coming of God’s kingdom while traveling with almost no possessions.

This spirit of detachment from material things continued in the early Church,
in which St. Luke says believers “had all things in common”
and “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all,
as any had need.”

But such radical charity ran up against the cultural conflict between
Jews and Gentiles, when a group of Greek widows felt neglected
in their needs as compared to those of a Jewish background.

Stephen’s reputation for holiness led the Apostles to choose him,
along with six other men,
to assist them in an official and unique way as this dispute arose.
Through the sacramental power given to them by Christ,
the Apostles ordained the seven men as deacons,
and set them to work helping the widows.

As a deacon, Stephen also preached about Christ as the fulfillment of the
Old Testament law and prophets. Unable to refute his message,
some members of local synagogues brought him before their religious authorities,
charging him with seeking to destroy their traditions.

Stephen responded with a discourse recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts
of the Apostles.
He described Israel’s resistance to God’s grace in the past,
and accused the present religious authorities of “opposing the Holy Spirit”
and rejecting the Messiah.

Before he was put to death, Stephen had a vision of Christ in glory.
“Look,” he told the court,
“I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

The council, however, dragged the deacon away and stoned him to death.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’”
records St. Luke in Acts 7.
“Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice,
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’
When he had said this, he died.”

The first Christian martyrdom was overseen by a Pharisee named Saul –
later Paul, and still later St. Paul –
whose own experience of Christ would transform him into a believer,
and later a martyr himself.

—Catholic News Agency

won’t back down

“You can stand me up at the gates of Hell,
but I won’t back down!”

Tom Petty


(rod iron fence to Colonial Cemetery / Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

The first official Christian martyr, or protomartyr,
was Stephen, who was killed in 36 AD.

What we know about Stephen comes to us from the Book of Acts.

A Greek speaking foreign born Jew, Stephen was elected to serve as a deacon to his community. Stephen, along with others, had appealed to the apostles that the
elderly widows within their community were being passed over and forgotten.
So Stephen, along with 6 others, were elected as official deacons who would in turn
attend to these elderly widows.

Yet Stephen was also known for being quite the evangelist.
He was an ardent speaker and witness of a new faith based on the teachings
of Jesus of Nazareth.
Stephen was known to lead many Jews to conversion.

Now we must remember that Stephen was both a Jew, born and raised,
as well as a follower of the Resurrected Christ.
A conundrum in dry and dusty Palestine.
As a Jew, he was still expected to answer to the Jewish governing body.

It was however his gift of speech and witness, along with the numerous conversions
of Jews, that would lead to Stephen’s swift demise.

Stephen was brought before the ruling Sanhedrin on charges of blaspheming.
The council believed Stephen to be nothing more than a heretic.

Eloquently, standing before the tribunal, Stephen presented his case as he spoke
of a natural and holy thread of events spiraling down through the ages as he linked
Abraham, Moses, Solomon, the Temple, David and finally culminating with Jesus Christ–
the inevitable final link in the chain.

Stephen continued explaining that the true Son of God who will come again to
judge both the living and the dead….
As he told those gathered that God’s kingdom was not to be found here on earth and
was not to be found in manmade buildings such as the Temple or in earthly accumulated treasures but rather was to be found only in the the risen Son.

Stephen closed his testimony by turning his gaze upward while announcing to those
gathered that
“I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right side of God!”
(Acts 7:58)
At which point the members of the council descended into chaos as they shouted and
covered their ears against hearing such seditious and heretical talk.

Shadows of Caiaphas tearing his clothes over the words of Jesus…
“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you:
From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the
Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Matthew 26:64

Stephen was immediately sentenced death…being stoned to death.

Remember this was the time of pre Christian Paul–rather this was the dangerous
time of Saul, Paul’s ‘old man’ of persecution and hate…
For it was Saul who was the agent who took keen personal interest in crushing
any and all ‘heretics’ who were promoting the teaching of the crucified Nazarene.

It was Saul who paved the way for Stephen’s death and it was Saul who approved it.

Now imagine if you will what would have happened if Stephen had recanted
his teachings?
What would have happened had Stephen been frightened by the knowledge that he would
be sentenced to death.
What if the thought of having people throwing rocks at him until he died…
a death brought about slowly and painfully from rocks beating against his body,
what if the thought of such a horrific death made him change his mind?
What would have happened had he thought it would best, be easier, if he just opted
to cooperate and renounce his preachings?

What example would be set?
What presedent would then be set as a witness to other followers.
What if other followers had been too afraid?
Afraid for their own physical wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families?
How would those decisions of so long impact today?

But Stephen had seen Christ in all His glory—
there was no backing down.
There was no turning back.
He would stand against the gates of Hell and he would not back down.

…..and it was this tale of Stephen and the sacrifice of faith that came
flooding front and center to my thoughts when I read the follwing
words offered by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson regarding the latest
news coming out of both England and Scotland regarding the Anglican Church.

“The Anglican Church is officially distancing itself from biblical and historic Christianity.”
David Robertson

Whoa!

The Church, the very bride of the Christ the groom, is actually distancing herself
from Jesus Christ???!!
As she is currently turning away from the Word of the God and the tenants of Biblical teaching… choosing rather instead to go the way of the current culture gods….

We are at present witnessing the Church of Western Civilization turning herself
away from her very foundation and yet thankfully, at the same time, we are witnessing
the Church of Africa rising powerfully to the defense and forefront of that same faith…
steeped in the Truth of God’s word….

The Bishop of Uganda has addressed this very issue….

“Archbishop “The British sent missionaries to Africa in the 19th Century telling us to trust the Bible as the Word of God, now they are telling us not to”
Archbishop of Uganda

“It is one way, Henry Orombi says,
of keeping faith with those long-ago Englishmen in muttonchop whiskers who brought
the church to Africa.
“A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world,” Orombi says.
“And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere,
and reached out there, and planted seeds there.
And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. . . .
It now looks like the Western world is tired and old.
But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere,
which is a product of the missionary outreach,
is young and vital and exuberant.
So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them
in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back,
right to the Northern Hemisphere.
It is happening.
It is happening.”
(excerpt from an article in The New Yorker / A Church Asunder April 2017)

As I pray that Bishop Orombi is correct…

May those of us of the Faith, as we find ourselves now standing against the
very gates of Hell, may we hold fast to God’s word, being not afraid of what the world
may do to us as we continue to proclaim His Glory…

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18

we continue beating our heads against the wall

I am hitting my head against the walls,
but the walls are giving way.

Gustav Mahler


(a little moth sits on the garage wall / Julie Cook / 2017)

Once again we are left standing before the hard blank wall of this current time of ours,
beating our heads in bewilderment, disbelief and overwhelming sorrow and grief.

Once again a radicalized young man has decided to step up to the plate of all things
evil by willingly sacrificing his life in the demented notion of all
things Allah and Islam by blowing himself up to bits in hopes of inflicting as much
mayhem, fear and death as he possibly can….
upon children.

Never mind his overt cowardice in his choice of targets.
Never mind that his priorities and choices were all screwed up.
Never mind that there won’t be any reward, let alone 70 virgins, awaiting
upon his arrival in Heaven…for Heaven is a far cry from his final destination….

A suicide bomber is the ultimate in cowardliness…
for despite the skewed thinking of ISIS, that such a murderer is really a martyr
in disguise…
a suicide bomber’s actions are so grossly screwed that they possess neither glory
nor valor but rather an altered, dare we say, demonic view of reality.
Never to be considered a true soldier of war….but rather as a poser and pretender..
a mere shadow of a fighter hiding among the woman and children.

Yet none of this talk, none of the future ensuing blame game, none of the what if’s will
be of any comfort to this new set of grieving families as they now are left to sadly join
ranks with those other families who have preceded them in the grief of what is known as
terrorist attack survivors.

This phenomenon of surviving terrorism is becoming all too common.
Such that I fear the world grows a bit hardened.
The attacks, the tragedies, the lives left shattered, the lives torn apart, the pieces of
the world forever shaken, are becoming more frequent than we can mentally process.

We of Western Civilization are left with two choices.
We can either stand beating our heads against the wall,
all the while knowing that these sorts of catastrophic events will indeed happen again
and again and again….
or we can say enough.

And if we are indeed strong enough to say “Enough!”
We will have to stand in solidarity against the politicians, the entertainers and
even our fellow citizens who insist on choosing to turn a blind eye to the root cause.

“Enough!” we say to those who want the world to continue on it this surrealistic
state of denial…
“Enough”! to those who say forget the vetting, forget the travel bans,
forget the carefree open boarders because we are a better people than that…

For it is in that naive line of thinking where our problem lies…

There was a time when we could welcome those wishing to come to the land of freedom
and democracy in search of a new life….
Opening our arms and embracing those who saw something of promise and hope
in Western Civilization.
These newcomers joyfully did what it took in order to contribute to their new home.
Seeking work, most often hard and labor intensive.
They sent their children to American schools and wanted their children
to learn to read, write and communicate in English

Yet now within the masses of those who are coming and going freely are the very ones
who say to us that we are not a kinder more open people but rather that we are a foolish
and grossly naive people…and that our demise is their only desire.

That is not alarmist thinking.
That is not xenophobic thinking.
That is just the reality of our current times.
For we are indeed naive.

The Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan is a small microcosm of perhaps our
own naiveté.
It is estimated that 45% of Dearborn’s approximate 95,000 total population are
Arab Americans with a large percentage of those devoted followers of Islam.
Sharia law is readily observed and Dearborn is considered the Arab capital of
America housing the largest Mosque in North America.

And whereas it is an example of an enclave of ethnicity and immigration where many of those who
live do so wishing to live a dual existence of being both Middle Eastern and American,
it is also an area of welcome…a haven for others whose desires are not as virtuous
as they may readily blend in unnoticed.
For it is an area that is more Middle Eastern than American.

Yet those who argue when eyebrows raise,
point to places like Harlem, pockets of minority living that are
cultural places for minorities to feel comfortable living while feeling connected.

And there will be some who find highlighting such a city and its dominate population as being
bigoted, insensitive, racist or that of some nutty right wing alarmist’s observation…

That is not this post’s intent.

Yet whereas many will say that Dearborn is simply like those once predominately Irish,
Italian or German neighborhoods of the turn of the 20th century…
there is one big difference.
And that is the difference of ideology.

For there is a vast difference between the ideology of the Judaeo Christian
Western Civilization seen in the Irish, Jewish, Black, Latino neighborhoods
verses the neighborhoods of Middle Eastern Muslims.

And it is in that same ideological difference that lies the unwillingness to adopt Western
ways or to assimilate while melding into the culture.
Rather it is preferred, or more aptly expected, that the host culture melds to the ideology
of Islam…where Sharia law takes precedence to local American law.

Yet in our manic desire to appear to be all encompassing and welcoming, we bend over
backwards to accommodate and appease.
And therein lies our problem.
Yet most of us simply don’t see a problem.

And whereas we can all agree that the times in which we live are indeed frightening and
most uncertain, there are steps and measures that we can take to bring an extra level
of safe guarding to the situation,
but the problem is that our leaders and even many of our citizens are yet not willing to do such.

So we’ll just keep beating our heads, raising our terror threat levels and literally
picking up the pieces of the shattered lives because we simply refuse to see
what’s going on….

“How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! … The fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog. … Insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. … A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity….”

“The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property,
either as a child, a wife, or a concubine,
must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power
among men.
Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities…
but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it…”

“No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund,
Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith.
It has already spread throughout Central Africa,
raising fearless warriors at every step;
and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science,
the science against which it had vainly struggled,
the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.”

Winston Churchill
The Nile River Walk 1899

hopefulness found in the new….

“Hope
Smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Alfred Tennyson

ef3b6f586232b33d9608dbea7ca56b34
(Icon image of St Jude Thaddeus by Ryszard Sleczka)

“But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of
our Lord Jesus Christ foretold.
They said to you,
“In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.”
These are the people who divide you,
who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.”

As we prepare to close the book on yet another year…
being mindful that it was indeed quite the year….
dangling from the icy strands of a distant bitter wind,
the ancient words of those who have gone long before us,
dance across the cold chasm of time…

St Jude Thaddeus,
younger brother of James the Lesser and one of the inner circle of 12…

Apostle,
Preacher,
teacher,
martyr.

Jude who is known as the saint of lost causes, of despair, and of hopelessness…
Proclaims, and rightly so, to all who have ears to hear and eyes to behold
not to despair…
not to languish in the gloom of dejection…
not to give way to the ensuing divisions of the ungodly
but rather to be of steadfast faith binding ourselves to the Holy Spirit…

But you, dear friends,
by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in
the Holy Spirit,
keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of
our Lord Jesus Christ
to bring you to eternal life.

Be merciful to those who doubt;
save others by snatching them from the fire;
to others show mercy,
mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and
to present you before his glorious presence without fault
and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory,
majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all ages,
now and forevermore!
Amen.

(Jude 17-25)

So therefore we are to go boldly and bravely into this new and waiting year…
Standing firm and grounded in our faith which is rooted deeply in Jesus Christ.
May we not be deterred nor disheartened…
not by the ominous signs of these trying times…
But rather rejoicing…
as we are full of the hopefulness found in the mercy and forgivenes
of our Risen Savior….

Happy New Year…

St Stephen

You desire that which exceeds my humble powers,
but I trust in the compassion and mercy of the All-powerful God.

Saint Stephen

lapidazione-di-santo-stefano
(The Stoning of St Stephen by Giorgio Vasari / Pisa, Italy / 1573)

“But he [Stephen], 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,
and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’
Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice,
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’;
and when he said this, he fell asleep.”

(Acts of the Apostles, 7:55-60)

Saint Stephen was one of the first ordained deacons of the Church.
He was also the first Christian martyr.
The Greek word from which we derive the English word martyr literally means witness.
In that sense, every Christian is called to bear witness to Jesus Christ,
in both their words and their actions.
Not all are asked to shed their blood.

His behavior,
even forgiving those who were taking his life while he was being stoned to death,
was a beautiful reflection of how conformed he truly was to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Like most of the early Christian leaders, he was Jewish, but may have come came from among the Greek speaking or Hellenistic believers, the ones feeling slighted in the distribution of alms.

Great preaching and miracles were attributed to Stephen.
The Bible records that Stephen “full of grace and power,
did great wonders and signs among the people.”
Stephen s popularity created enemies among some Jews,
members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen. They debated with him,
to generate evidence against him in furtherance of their persecution of the early Church.

They accused him of blasphemy, of speaking against God and Moses.
The charges inflamed the local populace which demanded he be tried and punished.
When Stephen was put on trial,
several false witnesses were brought forward by the Sanhedrin to testify
that he was guilty of blasphemy.
He was charged with predicting that Jesus would destroy the Temple
and for preaching against Mosaic law.

Stephen was filled with wisdom from heaven.
He responded by detailing the history of Israel and outlining the blessings God had
bestowed upon his chosen people.
He also explained how disobedient Israel had become,
despite the goodness and mercy of the Lord.
Stephen explained that Jesus had come to fulfil the law of Moses,
not destroy it. He quoted extensively from the Hebrew scriptures to prove his case.

Finally, he admonished the Sanhedrin, saying,
“You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears.
You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.
Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted?
They killed those who foretold the coming of the Upright One,
and now you have become his betrayers,
his murderers. In spite of being given the Law through angels,
you have not kept it.” (Acts 7:51-53)

As Stephen concluded his defense,
he looked up and saw a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
He said,
“Look, I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
That vision was taken as the final proof of blasphemy to the Jews who did not believe
Jesus was the Messiah or Son of God.
For them, Jesus could not possibly be beside the Father in Heaven.
The crowd rushed upon Stephen and carried him outside of the city to stone him to death.

As Stephen was being brutally stoned,
he spoke his last words,
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Words which echoed the very words of Jesus on the Cross.
Following those words, Stephen died, in the Lord.

Watching the trial and execution was a Rabbi named Saul of Tarsus,
a virulent persecutor of the early Church.
Shortly thereafter, that Rabbi would himself encounter the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus
and be dramatically converted.
His encounter is recorded in the 9th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.
He took the name Paul as a sign of his new life in Jesus Christ and went on to
become the great apostle to the Gentiles.

Stephen was buried by Christians, but the location of his tomb is not specified in the
New Testament and may have been forgotten for a time.
In 415 a Christian priest claimed he had a vision of the tomb and located Stephen’s remains.
A name inside the tomb confirmed the find

St Stephens’ Day is remembered each year on December 26th

(information Catholic.org)