December 26: St. Stephen
Stephen's name means crown. He was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church. We read about him in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. Peter and the apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons. Stephen is the most famous of these.
God worked many miracles through St. Stephen. He spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful St. Stephen's preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise arguments, so they got men to lie about him. These men said that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without any fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel.
Stephen spoke about Jesus, showing that he is the Savior God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to heaven. He said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged St. Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The saint prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him. After such an expression of love, the martyr went to his heavenly reward.
"The love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven…. Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven. Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together." -St. Fulgentius