Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

Stephen the Martyr Feast Day (Day after Christmas 2015)

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Dohle-Stephen-webFor many, Christmas can be a very sentimental time of the year. Baby Jesus, pretty lights and decorations, parties and yes gifts. All good, and possibly for those who don’t get caught up in the cultural tornado of frenzied activity (probably more than is realized), a very good time of the year. Sentiment is good and necessary, for in our lives we need warm spots, tear jerking movies and maybe a couple glasses of wine to open us up a bit when we are with friends from time to time. Yet just like fog, it is soon dissipated by the harsh reality of the searing heat of the sun. This is not a negative statement, but just the nature of our world….many experiences, not all of them pleasant that come on their own accord. How we deal or react to them is the question. Also the meaning we give them is also central; though perhaps not often thought about. Yet what we believe and truly have faith in, are what directs our lives, even if failure is often part of that journey.

So on the day after Christmas, the Church celebrates the martyrdom of St. Stephen. He died for “Who” happened at Christmas. I suppose we are called to die in many ways before the finale curtain call. In answering the call of grace; Stephen, long before he was stoned to death, died to a way of life that alienated him from God as well as others.

All relationships if they are to grow and mature require a death to self in one way or another. With Christ, this death-to-self allows for a certain kind of freedom to flower. I guess this freedom was expressed by Stephen, who on the point of death forgave and prayed for those who stoned him. That prayer was also said for Saul, who witnessed the stoning and approved of it. Stephen died with Christ; he also died for those who killed him and I believe his prayer, like the prayer of Christ on the Cross, was answered in the later conversion of Saul, who took on the name of Paul. So Stephen did die to old ways of being and took on the life of Christ, giving him the freedom to forgive and love his enemies. No small task this work of grace. For the human heart (well my heart) is not easily given over to love of enemies or of forgiveness. In Christ Jesus all things are possible; even the taming of the human heart.

I get glimmers of this reality. Of Christ, his love for all of us, and how each human existence takes on the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus….yet after a short time, I fall back asleep. Yet once the heart has been wounded by Infinite Love, it cannot go back to ‘before’….the pursuit of God becomes more real, our failures more painful and self knowledge more pronounced. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, because all that keeps us away from the love as manifested at Christmas will be burned away. Merciful love is often experienced as harsh and cruel, yet it is still love.

May all hearts O Lord, be wounded by your infinite love. Those that are fearful, or angry, or who do not believe, my enemies and those I struggle to love, may all be wounded, and surprised at the wonder of who you are. AMEN.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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