Pastoral response from the Presiding Bishop of The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA) on behalf of the College of Bishops of CACINA to the Bishop of Rome’s discriminatory statements against the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community
December 30, 2008.
Who is It Who Speaks for Us?
(Quisnam est is quisnam fatur nobis)?
By divine institution Holy Church is structured and governed with a wonderful diversity. “For just as in one body we have many members, yet all members have not the same function, so we, the many, are one body in Christ, but severally members one of another” (Rom. 12:4-5).
Therefore, the chosen People of God is one: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph. 4:5). As members, they share a common dignity from their rebirth in Christ. They have the same filial grace and vocation to perfection.
They possess in common one salvation, one hope, and one undivided charity. Hence, there is in Christ and in the Church no inequality on the basis of race or nationality, social condition or sex, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither male nor female. For you are all ‘one’ in Christ Jesus: (Gal 3:28).
+ To All People of Good Will:
The Grace and Peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, The Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all!
The Catholic Apostolic Church of North America (CACINA) is greatly saddened by the recent remarks made by the Bishop of Rome regarding our brothers and sisters who have been hurt by the Vatican’s less than Christ-like pronouncements about a dimension of our community who are already oppressed in our society, and are now again made more vulnerable to sanctioned discrimination by the inflammatory opinion expressed by the leader of the Roman Catholic church.
We the CACINA Catholics declare that Rome does not speak for every Catholic and we of CACINA as Catholics reject the recent statement from the Vatican, which seeks to divide the Church of Christ even further from her mission to all people. In the name of Catholicism, Rome often assumes that she speaks for all who claim the ancient Tradition of Catholicism. She does not. We of CACINA also represent a voice of Catholicism, which contrary to Rome’s opinion, has experienced the value and richness that diversity brings to our individual, communal, and most importantly our ecclesial life.
CACINA, like Rome, derives her authority from Jesus Christ, her Apostolic authenticity to Teach on matters of dogma, faith, and morals from the Apostolic succession of Duarte Costa, and is guided by the Holy Spirit to be a healing and loving witness to the Catholic Church of Jesus Christ in this time and place.
We are reminded by Christ, who after he fed the five thousand told us: “to gather up the fragments, so the nothing might be lost” (Jn. 6: 1-14). These words of Christ have no explicit or implied admonition to only feed those who are like us or who love the way we think they should love. No, Christ only tells us to feed my lambs!
We are guided by the Holy Spirit to remind our Roman brethren of that astonishing moment in the history of the Roman church when the Spirit of God inspired the church to proclaim at Vatican Council II:
Thanks to the experience of past ages, the progress of the sciences, and the treasures hidden in various forms of human culture, the nature of man himself is more clearly revealed and new roads to truth are opened. These benefits profit the Church, too. For, from the beginning of her history, she has learned to express the message of Christ with the help of the ideas and terminology of various peoples, and has tried to clarify with the wisdom of philosophers, too.
We of CACINA are guided by the Holy Spirit to make conscious for ourselves and all who hold and teach the Catholic faith, that we will be judged by every word which proceeds from our mouth. “For God’s Word, by whom all things were made, was Himself made flesh so that as a perfect man He might save all and sum up all things in Himself…”
We the bishops of CACINA, compelled by our experience of the all inclusive love of God, Incarnate in Jesus Christ and living in His Church do not accept our Roman brothers discriminatory rhetoric, which lays a theological and ecclesial foundation for acts of discrimination and violence to human beings everywhere.
Finally, we the bishops of CACINA in the name of other Catholics offer our deepest apology to all who have been hurt and ostracized by a theology so limited that it attempts to have us believe that God’s powerful expression of love in his Church could be so diminished by our love of each other.
The Proclamation of this Pastoral Letter from the CACINA College of Bishops is to be read in all the parishes of the Church, is given under Our Seal and Signature on this 31 Day of December, the Feast of ST. SYLVESTER I, POPE, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, in the United State of America.
Most Reverend Anthony Santore, FCR
Presiding Bishop of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America
Redeeming the Snow Storm:
On Christmas Eve, I managed to break parts of two sets of tire chains attempting to get home from Legacy Hopewell House Hospice, where I serve as Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator. After working in vain for two hours to get my car from the bottom of our hill up to our driveway–becoming soaking wet and succeeding in just about freezing my hands off in the process–I gave up, walked home, had a drink and a bowl of soup, watched a movie, said a half-hearted prayer of thanksgiving for the holiday and went to bed. The next day brought no relief from the weather, so the car stayed in the street, more or less close to the curb. I was OK with that except for the fact that I had committed to assist at a graveside service at Willamette National Cemetery Friday morning for a veteran who had been killed in a tragic accident earlier in the week. I had just about concluded that I would have to call the Funeral Director and tell him I couldn’t make it when there was a knock at our front door. I opened it and there was Charlie, my next-door neighbor, who said with a smile, “I know that you do important work. It’s work I couldn’t do, but I’d like to help in some way. If you have to go anywhere tomorrow, take my RAV 4 Toyota (Ed. Note. It’s brand new) . It’s got 4-wheel drive and it’s all chained up and ready to go.”
Needless to say, I took him up on his offer. I got to Willamette National and did the service–after a bunch of us got the hearse unstuck. When I took Charlie’s Toyota back home, I discovered that he and Denny, another of my wonderful neighbors, had dug out my car and driven it to my house. Once there, Charlie had installed a heavy-duty set of chains for which he no longer had use (and which fit my car exactly). Needless to say, I was overwhelmed. But that’s not the end of the story.
In recognition of my service to this veteran, his family had given me an honorarium. Within an hour, I became aware of a poor family’s serious need for financial assistance. It turned out that what they needed was what I had received. I hope you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I passed on the gift that was given to me.
When I preside at funerals and memorial services, I often stress that one of the best ways to honor a deceased friend or loved one who has shown us kindness or generosity is to resolve to pass it on, and that in so doing the person’s memory and influence remains alive in the world. I can’t tell you all the details of how this came about, but what I can reveal is that my neighbor had no prior knowledge of my Friday morning commitment; nor, except for me, do any of the people involved in this triangle of good will know any of the others. But they have all become part of the legacy of generosity shown by my neighbors and by a family in memory of their loved one who had died. As Tiny Tim says at the end of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “God bless us everyone!”
Gospel of the day:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.
But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.
And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.
John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.
Reflection on the gospel: The Prologue from the Gospel of John seems to be a hymn of the Johannine community that members of that community sang as part of their worship. There is strong evidence that John’s gospel enjoyed the benefit of one or more editors, and that an editor took the hymn and added it to the start of the gospel. In any event, what can we make of this hymn and, indeed, the testimony of the other gospels except that people who were very near Jesus in history, who enjoyed the testimony of people who had walked with Jesus, had a very high opinion of him?
We are used to conciliar statements about Jesus’ nature, statements removed by centuries from the Lord’s life in Palestine and made dubious in the minds of skeptics because of their remoteness in time from the flesh and blood Jesus, but here at the start of John’s gospel, there are some extraordinary claims made about who Jesus is. These claims relate closely to an experience of him by people who saw him, heard him, touched him, knew him. Added to this testimony the willingness of many of those who saw, heard, touched, and knew him to go to their deaths for what they had seen and what they had heard, claims such as those which we have in the Prologue seem to me to be very powerful indeed.
We close another year fully conscious that God has blessed us but also aware that human nature always admits of failure. We trust God to wipe away every tear and make all things new again. Joy to each of you in the new year 2009.
Saint of the day: Born on January 31, 1597 at Font-Couverte, France, John Regis was the son of a wealthy merchant. Educated at Jesuit college at Beziers, and at Cahors, Le Puy, Auch, and Tournon, he joined the Jesuit Order at age 18. A preacher, he was a catechist who was so good that children he taught helped bring their parents back to the Church. A priest at age 34, he worked with plague victims in Toulouse. He taught at Pamiers.
His skill at preaching caused him to be sent as evangelist to provinces that had fallen to the Huguenots following the Edict of Nantes, places where many had abandoned the Church. Not known for a polished style or appearance, his simple method of preaching the Truth, and his willingness to work for the poor, converted crowds of farmers, workers, and county folk. When pressed about his image he replied, “The rich never lack confessors.” He lived off apples, black bread, and whatever came to hand, preferring to spend his time preaching, teaching, and hearing confessions.
He established hostels for prostitutes, whom he called “Daughters of Refuge,” who wished to leave the business. He was often assaulted for his trouble. He helped a group of country girls stay away from the cities by establishing them in the lacemaking and embroidery trade, an area of which he is a patron saint.
Regis established the Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament; to the society women he offered the “gift” of a few hungry mouths to feed, while to others he sent notes like, “Sir, you will provide food for the poor people whose names are listed below, and you will give them six sous for their lodging. If you are unable to provide them with food, you will give them a further six sous so that they may buy it themselves.” They did. He established a granary for the poor which sometimes miraculously refilled and demanded (and received) treatment for the poor by doctors, nurses, and pharmacists. He was known for miraculous healing, but said that “every time God converts a hardened sinner he is working a far greater miracle.”
At one point, there was a movement against him by some of his fellow Jesuits who felt his zealous “signs of simplicity and indiscretion” did not best showcase their order nor follow its teachings. Regis’ bishop, however, recognized there was more jealousy than theology in the complaint and ignored it. Regis asked for transfer to Canada where he could preach without worries about politics in his order, but he was ordered to continue his good works in the French countryside.
At age 43, Regis had a premonition of his death. He spent three days in retreat, made a general confession, and resumed his mission in mountain villages. Bad weather set in, he spent his days preaching, his nights in poor shelter, developed pleurisy and then pneumonia. His last words: “Jesus, my Savior, I recommend my soul to You.” Regis died on December 30, 1640 of pneumonia while preaching a mission at La Louvesc, Dauphine, France.
Spiritual reading: Every part of the journey is of importance to the whole. (The Way of Perfection by Teresa of Avila)
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY NAME
NUMBERS 6: 22-27, LUKE 2:15-21
Reflection for Wednesday, Dec 31 by Father Joseph Diele
The blessing has been given. The name of God has been shared with us. God is in our midsts and we are able to receive of God. What do we do with the gift who is God? How do we live it?
God’s peace is not simply the absence of war it is the fullness of God and it has been shared with us. The fullness of God’s peace, Shalom is the fullness of serenity, security, respect, honor, joy, fullness, health, healing, forgiveness, wisdom and life that comes to us in and from God.
-Are we living in the peace of God?
-Are we acting as those touched by God?
-Do we live as those named by God?
-Do our communities remind us of our dignity as children of God?
Gospel of the day:
There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Reflection on the gospel: Anna’s presence in the story about Mary, Joseph, and Jesus’ encounter with Simeon doesn’t add any specific themes to the narrative. After all, Anna does what Simeon does, that is, prophesies about the child. Luke, however, in his gospel makes a point of the role of women in the unfolding of Jesus’ story, and whenever he introduces a man, he introduces a woman as a counterpoint. Anna serves this role in the gospel: to make sure we understand that God works through women just as God works through men.
There also is an interesting conclusion to this narrative: Jesus commences his first hidden life. We see it punctuated when the young Jesus speaks with the elders at the Temple in Jerusalem before he begins his longer hidden life. All we know about his first 12 years is that he grows, becomes strong, is filled with wisdom, and God favors him. It might seem there is no moral in this account for us, but we too live lives that are hidden, and God calls us, like God called Jesus, to grow, become strong, be filled with wisdom, and be favored. The project, when we consider the expanse of our lives, may sound daunting, but surely we can do it just for today.
Spiritual reading: What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. (St. Augustine)
THE FEAST OF THE HOLY NAME
NUMBERS 6: 22-27, LUKE 2:15-21
Reflection for Monday, Dec 29
by Fr. Joseph Diele
On this day, we celebrate the fact that according to Jewish custom Jesus is named. Names are important. Giving a name to some one or something is to give it authority and power. God names Adam in the Genesis story and Adam is asked to name creation. Creation is a force, a power because the Divine Spirit in Adam can name empower and steward over creation.
The name Jesus means savior or one who saves. What do our names mean? What is there in a name?
I never liked my name when I was a kid. It may have been in the seminary in my mid-twenties that I came to appreciate my name. I now realize it was a name picked out, long before I was born by the God who had knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am every bit like the Joseph we find in Genesis and like the Joseph of the New Testament. I am a night dreamer and spend hours interpreting my dreams and the dreams of others. The OT Joseph also did the same. The NT Joseph encounters God in his dreams and it reminds us of his contemplative heart. I too seek to live with a contemplative heart, (living with the awareness of God.) Joseph of the NT sees what is not yet visible and takes risks on these inner visions and voices and surly in my life I am willing to take the risks that God keeps asking of me. I, Joseph seek to dream the dreams of God.
Who has your name? Is your name in the Bible? Research your name what does it mean? What are the names you like and why have you picked them for your children?
Where is your name leading you? God wanted you to have the name you have. It says something about you, something about who you are as God’s instrument.
Sit and imagine God deciding your name, calling your name. What does it sound like when God calls your name?
Thomas a Becket, Martyr
Gospel of the day:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
“Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you prepared in the sight of every people, a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Reflection on the gospel: Among the four writers of the gospels, Luke was the most skilled stylist. A Gentile Christian, he immersed himself in the traditions of the Hebrew scriptures and possessed an intimate knowledge of the Septuagint, the Greek rendering of the books that came to be known among Christians as the Old Testament. Luke’s infancy narrative has an interesting stylistic overlay full of meaning. In the chapters devoted to the coming of Jesus, Luke writes in the style of the Septuagint and shifts dramatically to a more contemporary style when he opens his account of Jesus’ ministry. By doing this, Luke sought to connect Jesus’ coming to the fulfillment of the ancient promises. Simeon’s story from today’s gospel is rooted deeply in Luke approach to his infancy narrative. Simeon serves the paradigm of an Old Testament prophet who can look into an apparently ordinary baby from a poor family and recognize the Christ for whom he has waited his entire life.
Saint of the day: Thomas à Becket was born in London, England in 1118. The son of Gilbert à Becket, an English merchant and the onetime sheriff of London, Thomas was of Norman ancestry. Educated at Merton Priory, Paris, Bologna, and Auxerre, Thomas was a civil and canon lawyer. He served as both a soldier and an officer. He became the Archdeacon of Canterbury because of his skills in administration. A friend of King Henry II, he became the Chancellor of England. When the Archbishop of Canterbury died, the King eventually chose his friend to succeed him; Thomas was ordained a priest one day, bishop the next, and later the afternoon of his episcopal ordination, he became Archbishop of Canterbury. To the King’s surprise and consternation, Thomas opposed the King’s interference in ecclesiastical matters. As a result, he went into exile several times. On December 29, 1170 in the Cathedral at Canterbury, England, he was murdered by the King’s knights, who believed they were acting at the King’s behest. Thomas was canonized three short years later in 1173. Henry came to the Cathedral in July of the next year to do public penance for Thomas’s death.
Spiritual reading: Let Jesus be nourished among us, among us let him advance in years and wisdom that at the fitting moment he may be ready for his Passion. Meanwhile he is little, he does not think of the Passion, instead he must be busy with the breast . . . . Let us live with him at Nazareth that we may be able to give forth sweet fragrance from the blossoms of a life in its springtime. (Letters by Adam of Perseigne)
Gospel of the day:
When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord, and to offer the sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord. He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform the custom of the law in regard to him, He took him into his arms and blessed God, saying: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted —and you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Reflection: This Sunday is the Feast of the Holy Family, and the Church holds up for our admiration the virtues of the Holy Family. It’s easy to hear, “Holy Family,” and think, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” and that is certainly a reasonable thing to hear, but there are two concepts at work in this term that speak to our condition and provide council about the conduct of our own lives.
The first is this idea of, “family.” In its various dimensions, it is the basic social contract in human life. It speaks to a deep intimacy between two or more people and an availability to nurture other people at the same time the members take care of their own needs. It speaks to a shared history and a web of enduring commitments. No matter what happens to the members of a family, its members can never escape a sense of their connection to each other.
The second idea is the idea of holiness. The readings for the day offer many ideals that might characterize a “holy family.” The third chapter of Sirach talks about the duties of children to their father and mother and the rewards that come from the fulfillment of those duties, rewards such as heard prayers and the forgiveness of sin. The reading from the third chapter of Colossians speaks of our having “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” The gospel for the day, Luke’s account of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, talks about the family’s fulfillment of its duty within the community of believers. In other words, the portrayal of family life in today’s readings extols an idea where each member of the family understands her or his role in the family and works for the betterment of each other member of the family at the same time the whole family unit fulfills its responsibility to the larger community.
Now the fact of the matter is that we know life lived with other people has lots of difficulties. None of us can know which course of action will bring about the greatest good, and we often need to guess about the direction we need to go. Each person, even in a family, has different ambitions, and sometimes we lose sight of the greater good as we seek our own advantage. In a world of scarce resources, we sometimes seek more than is our share. Sometimes we grab at short-term advantages without any consideration of their long-term consequences. In other words, like in society as a whole, family members often compete with each other, conflicts arise, hard words are said, wounds are opened, and scars are developed.
So this feast not only holds up an ideal, but it also implicitly calls on us to reflect on the real situation of our own experiences of family, that is, the huge divide may separate our lived experience of family life from the ideal the Church holds up to us.
Every circumstance in life presents to us basically two sets of options. We can give up, or we can go on. The first of these two options is the option to despair. Certainly, we can say, it’s always been hard, and we have failed too often to believe anything else is possible, so we’re not going to try. The second of these two options is an option for hope. Despite whatever our failures have been and whatever our patterns of failures have been, we can say that at least this one situation, whatever it is, I can make a little better than it would be if we despaired of change.
In my own study of the saints, who after all are set up for us as ideals of holy life, there are often two pictures that emerge. One is a stained glass image of people who have arrived. The other one is of people who make a mess of things over and over again but just keep on at it. They may never arrive at the stained glass ideal, but there is something about their persistence even in the face of great failures that makes them worthy of imitation.
What then do I propose to you as a practical application of the ideal? I would suggest to you that all those things we read about in today’s readings are worthy of our admiration: duty, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience. But where sanctity really lies is in perseverance, not giving up in the face of failure, getting up, dusting oneself off, and trying again. Sanctity lies in trusting that God will fix our failures and make wonderful things of them. Sanctity lies in being a sinner who keeps on trying. A holy family is a family that recognizes its limitations but just refuses to give up trying.
Spiritual reading: What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself? And What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the son of God is begotten in us. (Meister Eckhart)
John the Beloved Disciple
Gospel of the day:
John 20:1a, 2-8
On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
Reflection on the gospel: Early liturgical commentaries associate the Feast of John as closest among the feasts of the apostles to Christmas because of the belief that John, as the Beloved Disciple, enjoyed a special friendship with the Lord. In fact, as the vignette from Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth portrays, John’s gospel claims the Beloved Disciple stood at the foot of the cross, the only male disciple to not abandon the Lord in his darkest hour. The gospel of the day is taken from John’s gospel and testifies to Peter and John’s excited run to tomb of Jesus after Mary of Magdala announces to the disciples that the Lord’s body is not in the tomb. The small details in this account truly do seem to suggest a firsthand account: Peter and the Beloved Disciple running, the younger man arriving first but waiting, perhaps deferentially, for the older man to go on in first, a commentary on the positions of the burial cloths, but perhaps most importantly, the reaction of the Beloved Disciple to what he saw: “He saw and believed.” John’s reaction to what he perceives is belief in what he has yet to perceive: the living resurrected Lord. So too much it be with us.
In three days, we have remembered the birth of the Lord, recalled his death as we reflected on Stephen’s martyrdom, and recalled his resurrection in the witness of the Beloved Disciple to what he saw. We cannot celebrate Christmas without remembering the reason the little Babe came to us, that is, to suffer, die, and rise.
Saint of the day: John the Apostle was the son of Zebedee and Salome. A fisherman, he was the brother of the Apostle James and called one of the Sons of Thunder. A disciple of John the Baptist and a friend of Peter the Apostle, John was called by Jesus during the first year of his ministry, and traveled everywhere with him, becoming so close as to be thought by many to be the mysterious beloved disciple of the Gospel of John. He took part in the Last Supper.
The Beloved Disciple was the only one of Jesus’ followers not to forsake the Savior in the hour of his Passion. He stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus made him the guardian of Our Lady. Upon hearing of the Resurrection, the Beloved Disciple was the first to reach the tomb; when he met the risen Lord at the lake of Tiberias, he was the first to recognize Him. In keeping that the Beloved Disciple and the Apostle John were the same person, the Church has placed John’s feast near the birth of the Lord to emphasize the ties between the birth of the Lord and his ultimate passion, death, and resurrection.
Spiritual reading of the day: When Christ saw Our Lady standing by his cross and her the boy apostle, John, he said to he, “Woman, behold your son.” There can be no doubt about his meaning. A few hours earlier, this boy had sat at table with Christ. He had leaned his head upon Christ’s breast and heard his heart beating. And that heartbeat was the music accompanying his prayer, the prayer offered on what was very nearly his last breath. He prayed that all those who loved him should be made one with him, that they should live in him, so that they would have only one life: his . . . . When he looked down from the cross, with eyes already full of death, Christ saw a huge crowd of people around him . . . . and he loved each one as if that one alone existed. It was not for a crowd that he was dying, but for each person in the crowd; not for the whole human race, but for each member of the human race. (The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander)
The Feast of Stephen the Martyr
Gospel of the day:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
Reflection on the gospel: Matthew’s gospel, this first day after our Christmas celebration, speaks to witness to Christ and its potential for a bloody outcome. This might seem odd, but there is a reasonableness in it. Christmas itself represents a feast of salvation specifically because the one who is born enters life ultimately to redeem it through a series of events that span the Easter Triduum that begins on Holy Thursday and ends on Easter Day. Christmas may witness to the joy of new birth, and the celebration of the Nativity is full of this amazement and wonder, but the child’s advent in human history comes with a purpose, the redemption of human history, and Christmas joy incorporates a sub-text of suffering, death, and resurrection. As almost an exclamation point to this testimony, the Church on the four days that follow Christmas offers models of various kinds of witness in the lives of Stephen, John, the Innocents, and Becket. We acknowledge Stephen as the first martyr of the Church. In the Acts of the Apostles, Stephen willing embraces the possibility of death to witness to his faith in the Lord, and a crowd that Stephen enrages with his witness to Christ proves willing to oblige his willingness to die. The close proximity of Stephen’s feast to Christmas evokes the paschal themes inherent in Christmas; just as the Lord becomes human to redeem humanity through his suffering, death, and rising, Christians most closely follow Christ when they confess their faith through the surrender of their lives for him. This is Stephen’s testimony and the reflection of the Church in the celebration of Stephen’s life on the day after the Church celebrates the Lord’s birth.
Saint of the day: Stephen’s name means “crown,” and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr’s crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these.
God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and 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 Stephen’s preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise argument, so they got men to lie about him, saying that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel.
The saint 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 and 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 holy martyr went to his heavenly reward. His feast day is December 26th.
Man altered was by sin from man to beast;
Beast’s food is hay, hay is all mortal flesh.
Now God is flesh and lies in manger pressed
As hay, the brutest sinner to refresh.
O happy field wherein this fodder grew,
Whose taste doth us from beasts to men renew.
(“The Nativity of Christ,” Stanza 4, St. Robert Southwell, S.J.)