It is no accident that immediately after we celebrate the feast of the Nativity, we move on to the feast of St. Stephen, the proto - martyr of the church. The two feasts may seem at first sight completely unrelated, and we may ask, what is the connection between them? It is that both the infant in the manger, and the church his mystical body, are to be signs of contradiction that are to be hated and rejected by the world.
Right from the outset the infant church was a despised and alien body in the society it was in, facing opposition and persecution, and it will always continue to be till the end of time. Just as the infant Jesus was to be born in a stable in poverty and rejection, so did the church from the beginning faced rejection and hatred by the establishment of its time. By its very nature the church will always be in fundamental opposition to the world it is in, and our time is no exception. But as soon as it tries to compromise with the world and be socially acceptable, its witness shall cease, as the shameful episode of the reception of Tony Blair has shown.
Stephen had the tremendous courage to confess before his establishment that Jesus Christ was Lord and God, sitting at the right hand of the Father, and for that he was stoned to death. Likewise we today must confess before our liberal establishment that Jesus Christ is Lord and God in the dignity of the human person, right from the moment of conception. Likewise, for that we shall be stoned and pilloried by the media, and face discrimination and unpopularity if not open persecution and social ruin.
But Stephen's martyrdom also gives us great hope. For just as he was given the wisdom of the Holy Spirit to confound his enemies and accusers, God will never fail to provide us with the means to confound our critics. And most significant of all, the witness of Stephen and his prayer for their forgiveness led to the conversion of Saul. What followed is well known. If we follow Stephen's example in forgiving our enemies and praying for them, then God will surely convert a Saul of the culture of death in our time.