The Jewish origin of Saint Stephen is universally acknowledged; he is known and loved everywhere as the first follower of Christ to give to his martyred God love for love, blood for blood. It is not certain whether he was among the seventy-two disciples of Jesus; some believe he was of the Greek tongue and not a native of Palestine. He studied with Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas under the famous Doctor of the Law, Gamaliel, who, being a member of the Sanhedrin, attempted to stop the persecution of the Apostles. (Acts of the Apostles 5:34-40) What is certain, however, is that he distinguished himself among his brethren as an admirable Christian, replete with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To his great beauty and angelic chastity were joined humility, patience, gentleness and charity, so perfect that they drew from all the faithful great admiration and esteem for him.
Dilexit nos, et tradidit semctipsum pro nobis. “He hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us.” Ephes. v. 2
God had conferred so many blessings on men, thereby to draw them to love Him; but these ungrateful men not only did not love Him, but they would not even acknowledge Him as their Lord. Scarcely in one corner of the earth, in Judea, was He recognized as God by His chosen people; and by them He was more feared than loved. He, however, Who wished to be more loved than feared by us, became man like us, chose a poor, suffering, and obscure life, and a painful and ignominious death; and why? To draw our hearts to Himself. If Jesus Christ had not redeemed us, He would not have been less great or less happy than He has always been; but He determined to procure our salvation at the cost of many labors and sufferings, as if His happiness depended on ours. He might have redeemed us without suffering; but no…. He willed to free us from eternal death by His Own death; and though He was able to save us in a thousand ways, He chose the most humiliating and painful way of dying on the Cross of pure suffering, to purchase the love of us, ungrateful worms of the earth. And what indeed was the cause of His miserable birth and His most sorrowful death, if not the love He had for us?
Ah, my Jesus, may that love which made Thee die for me on Calvary destroy in me all earthly affections, and consume me in the fire which Thou art come to kindle on the earth. I curse a thousand times those shameful passions which cost Thee so much pain. I repent, my dear Redeemer, with all my heart for all the offences I have committed against Thee. For the future I will rather die than offend Thee; and I wish to do all that I can to please Thee. Thou hast spared nothing for my love; neither will I spare anything for Thy love. Thou hast loved me without reserve; I also without reserve will love Thee. I love Thee, my only good, my love, my all.
Noel! Noel! This was the cry of our fathers when the Faith prevailed, ardent and lively in the bosom of families, institutions, and all of society. That cry has grown very weak in our day, for the naivete of simple faith has tended to disappear. Nevertheless, of all the Christian feasts, Christmas is perhaps the most beloved and the most popular.
God used the most apparently indifferent events to reach His ends. Mary lived in Nazareth, and the prophets predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. But an edict of Caesar Augustus ordered all the inhabitants of Judea to go at a certain time to enroll in their native city. Bethlehem was the birthplace of Joseph, so that is where the holy spouses went; and that is where, in conformity to the predictions of the prophets, Jesus was to come into the world.
What a birth for a God! Joseph looked for an inn, but there was none for such poor people; rejected and scorned, they were obliged to seek refuge in an isolated stable. And that is where, in the middle of the night, Mary miraculously gave birth to Jesus; that is where the most meek Saviour received the first adorations, where He received the first kisses and caresses, where He shed His first tears! Mary took the Infant in Her arms, covered Him with poor swaddling clothes and laid Him softly in a cold manger. O first moments which Mary and Joseph spent at the feet of Jesus, how precious you were for them, how full of charm! We will taste a little of this joy and these charms on going to our church to pay a visit to the manger scene that represents such a great mystery. Earthly joys are deceitful, but the joy of God’s service are lasting and true.
Jesus was born, and behold, the heavens rang out in hymns of joy as the Angels sang the canticle of triumph, Glory to God in the highest! and the canticle of peace, Peace on earth to men of good will! Jesus was born, and at once the poor shepherds, informed by the Angels, came to adore the Redeemer of Israel in that little Infant. Jesus was born, and soon the princes of the East, led by a Star, laid their homages at His feet. Let us hail Christmas, the dawn of peace and salvation.
Abbé L. Jaud, Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, Mame: Tours, 1950
Saint Joseph goes to Bethlehem with His Holy Spouse by St. Alphonsus de Liguori
Ascendit autem et Joseph . . . ut profittretur cutit Maria desponsata sibi uxore preegnantt.
“And Joseph also went up . . . to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.”–St. Luke, ii. 4.
God had decreed that His Son should be born not in the house of Joseph, but in a cavern and stable of beasts, in the poorest and most painful way that a child can be born; and therefore He caused Caesar to publish an edict, by which people were commanded to go and enroll themselves, every one in his own city whence he drew his origin.
Tarsilla and Emiliana were two paternal aunts of Saint Gregory the Great, and it is this holy Pope who narrates their touching story. They renounced the world together, together consecrated their virginity to God and remained in their house as if in a convent, far removed from the conversation of the world. Encouraging one another to virtue by discourse and example, the two sisters soon made considerable progress in spiritual life.
They had a sister named Gordiana, who had taken the same engagements, but little by little fell back into affection for the world, to the great grief of Tarsilla and Emiliana. With gentleness they reproached her, but the inconstant spirit of Gordiana soon forgot their charitable lessons. One day Tarsilla had a vision, in which Pope Saint Felix, her uncle, appeared to her and showed her a palace of marvelous beauty, saying to her: Come; I will receive you into this habitation of light. She fell ill with a fever the next day, which rapidly grew worse. While in her agony, with her eyes lifted to heaven, she cried out to those surrounding her, Make way! Jesus is coming! Soon after speaking these words, as she gazed at the vision, her soul was delivered from the bonds of the flesh. It was December 24th. The fragrance with which the room was filled confirmed the vision the virgin had had before dying.
A few days afterwards she appeared to her sister Emiliana, saying: My sister, come! I did not celebrate with you the birth of the Lord, but together we will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany. If you call only me, Emiliana replied, what will become of our sister Gordiana? Come, Tarsilla answered sadly; Gordiana has decided to remain with the worldlings. And after that vision, Emiliana fell ill and joined her sister for the feast day.
Reflection: Saint Gregory reminds us, as he tells of the three sisters, that only the one who perseveres to the end will be saved, and that it is of no use to begin, if we do not complete the work of saving our soul.
Vie des Saints pour tous les jours de l’année, by Abbé L. Jaud (Mame: Tours, 1950).
Spiritual Bouquet: No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us. I St. John 4:12