The Vatican (Wednesday, December 26, 2018, Gaudium Press) Here is a working translation by Zenit Vatican correspondent Deborah Castellano Lubov of Pope Francis’ address before and after the recitation of the Angelus prayer to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 26, 2018, on the Feast of St. Stephen:
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
The joy of Christmas still floods our hearts: the marvelous proclamation that Christ is born for us continues and brings peace to the world. In this atmosphere of joy, today we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr. It might seem strange to approach the memory of St. Stephen at the birth of Jesus, because the contrast between the joy of Bethlehem and the drama of Stephen, stoned in Jerusalem in the first persecution against the nascent Church, emerges. In truth, it is not so, because the Child Jesus is the Son of God made man, who will save humanity by dying on the Cross. Now, we contemplate Him wrapped in swaddling clothes in the crib; after His Crucifixion, He will be wrapped again and placed in a sepulcher.
Saint Stephen was the first to follow in the footsteps of the Divine Master with martyrdom; he died like Jesus entrusting his life to God and forgiving his persecutors. Two attitudes: he entrusted his life to God and forgave. While he was being stoned, he said: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7: 59). These words are very similar to those pronounced by Christ on the Cross: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23: 46). The attitude of Stephen who faithfully imitates the gesture of Jesus, is an invitation addressed to each of us to welcome with faith from the hands of the Lord what life holds for us as positive and even negative. Our existence is marked not only by happy circumstances – we know this – but also by moments of difficulty and loss. But trust in God helps us to accept the difficult moments and to live them as an opportunity for growth in faith and building new relationships with our brothers. It is about abandoning ourselves in the hands of the Lord, Who we know to be a Father rich in goodness towards His children.
The second attitude with which Stephen imitated Jesus at the extreme moment of the Cross is forgiveness . He does not curse his persecutors, but prays for them: “He bent his knees and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” ( Acts 7:60). We are called to learn from Him to forgive, to always forgive, and it is not easy to do, we all know. Forgiveness enlarges the heart, generates sharing, gives serenity and peace. The proto-martyr Stephen shows us the way to go in interpersonal relationships in the family, in the places of school, in work, in the parish and in the different communities. Always open to forgiveness. The logic of forgiveness and mercy is always winning and opens horizons of hope. But forgiveness is cultivated through prayer, that allows us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Stephen was able to forgive his killers because, filled with the Holy Spirit, stared at the sky and his eyes open to God (cf. Acts7.55). From the prayer, came the strength to suffer martyrdom. We must pray insistently to the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us the gift of fortitude that heals our fears, weaknesses, trifles and enlarges our hearts to forgive. Always forgive!
We invoke the intercession of Our Lady and St. Stephen: their prayer helps us to always entrust ourselves to God, especially in difficult times, and supports us in the resolve to be men and women capable of forgiveness.