by Fr. Joe Uecker, C.PP.S.
I chose the readings from the feast of St. Stephen because of the message which it sends, having just celebrated Christmas the previous day. In a way, it almost seems crude to celebrate a birth one day and the next to celebrate a murder. But that’s what we do.
I’m reminded of the Christmas crib we made when I was at St. Vincent Pallotti Parish in Abilene. Some people who moved in from Houston brought the idea with them. You know how the roof of a building usually looks like this. Well, this was built in such a way that your eyes are immediately drawn to the Cross. From the crib to the Cross. And that’s what we are celebrating with Christmas and the next day St. Stephen.
It’s like telling people: Let’s not get too carried with how cute the little baby is because it is leading to the Cross. I’m not one of those who believe that God wanted Jesus to die, that God wasn’t going to be satisfied till God saw blood. I think that’s what some of our prayers have been. One of the invocations of the Litany of the Precious Blood is: “Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness.” And in the closing prayer, we say: “Almighty and eternal God, you have appointed your only-begotten Son the Redeemer of the world and willed to be appeased by his Blood.” To me, it has God saying: “I won’t be satisfied, your sin won’t be forgiven unless I see my Son shed his blood.” I don’t believe that at all.
The way I look at it is that God told his Son: “I want you to go to earth and become one of my people and I just want you to love them. I want you to love them so much that they can’t doubt our love for them.” And anyone who has ever loved another person knows that those three magic words I love you mean that I am ready to suffer. They may not know that when they first say those words, but if they’re serious, they find out real quick. I don’t know why it has to be that way, but I know it is true. Jesus learned that and it led him to the Cross. St. Stephen learned that also and it led him to being stoned to death. God didn’t want blood then and God doesn’t want blood today. But God isn’t afraid of blood if that’s what it takes to show total love.
The Gospel reading for St. Stephen speaks of family divisions, to the point of brother handing over brother to death. This is so apt for today. Thank God I haven’t heard of any family killings, but I’ve heard of family members not talking to each other because of such deep divisions. While these divisions are mainly political, the results are the same: relationships are on hold at best and totally broken at worst.
And that calls us to our charism: reconciliation. To me this means that everything we do, all the homilies we preach, all our relationships should be directed to reconciliation, to bringing people together, to be bridges between individuals and groups of people. We know what happens to a bridge. A bridge gets walked on or driven on. And the more we try to be reconcilers, the more we’ll get walked on.
One thing I’ve found helpful along the lines of reconciliation is food, inviting someone over for a meal. If someone accepts your invitation, that is a good beginning. It may not go any farther than to convince the invited one that you don’t have horns or a pitchfork. It may take several meals, but it often goes much farther than that.
What do you agree on? These days, that question is not always very illuminating. When someone says: “We have alternate facts,” and acts on that, it’s really hard to find any common ground. I don’t have advice when you can’t agree on demonstrable facts. We can thank God that not everyone operates on that level. But as Jesus said in the Gospel for St. Stephen’s Day, “Do not worry about how you are to speak, or what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” I don’t see why those words do not apply to people sitting around a table as well.