Friday, December 26, 2014

Armed for Battle

After the exercise in gluttony known as Christmas dinner, the Church wakes us up on the 26th by celebrating St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church whose story begins in Acts 6. In a homily from the 6th century, St. Fulgentius makes what is to me a fascinating linkage between the 25th and 26th.

Speaking of the birth of the king on the 25th is common. The gift of gold brought by the magi is the symbol of his kingship. St. Fulgentius then speaks of the followers of Jesus, the disciples, us, as the soldiers of the king. Again there is nothing new in that. We are all familiar with the image of us as the soldiers of Christ.

But if we are soldiers engaged in a a great battle, what is the weapon we carry? Here St. Fulgentius looks to the story of St. Stephen and sees that the weapon of the soldier of Christ is love.
This is no Pollyanna love. This love requires courage, the courage to die.

In the words of St. Fulgentius,

Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.

In the end Stephen was stoned to death. So did he win or loose? He won by dying. Welcome to the paradox of Christianity. He won because he never let go of his faith. He won because he never let the evil actions of other cause him to hate. He won because he understood that our life on earth is but a moment out of our entire life, most of which should be lived in God's presence. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus on earth, we celebrate the birth of Stephen into the kingdom of heaven. Apparent defeat is really victory in the battle if our greatest weapon is alway love.