St. Stephen – Stewardship Saint for December

The day after Christmas is called “St. Stephen’s Day” to commemorate
the first Christian martyr. It is also this “Feast of Stephen” that is
mentioned in the English Christmas carol, “Good King Wenceslas.”
Stephen was a Greek-speaking Jew living in Jerusalem. He became
a follower of Jesus Christ and was one of seven individuals chosen by
the twelve apostles to serve tables, look after the distribution of the
community funds (alms), especially to widows, and assist in the ministry
of preaching.
Stephen was also a leader in the Christian group known as the
“Hellenists,” a community that had its own synagogues where the
scriptures were read in Greek. The Hellenist Christians maintained that
the new Christian faith could not grow unless it separated itself from
Judaism and specifically the Temple and the Mosaic law. The Hellenists
also urged the expansion of the Church’s mission to the Gentiles.
The elders in a number of neighboring synagogues opposed Stephen
and the Hellenists and charged him with blasphemy for saying that the
Temple would be destroyed and that Jesus had set aside the Mosaic law
even though Stephen maintained that Jesus came to fulfill the law, not
set it aside.
When dragged before the Sanhedrin, the supreme legal court of
Jewish elders, Stephen made an eloquent defense of the Hellenist
Christian teaching. He charged his accusers of trying to stifle the
movement of the Holy Spirit, of persecuting those who spoke
prophetically and of betraying and murdering Jesus. Then he looked up
to heaven and began to describe a vision he was having of the recently
executed Jesus standing on the right side of God.
The council erupted into a furor and its members began shouting,
covered their ears and ordered Stephen to be dragged outside the city and
executed. As he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked God to forgive
his attackers while the witnesses to his martyrdom placed their cloaks at
the feet of Saul of Tarsus who consented to Stephen’s death. Saul would
later undergo a conversion experience and become Saint Paul.
Saint Stephen was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages
and in many countries his feast day of December 26 is still a public
holiday. He is the patron saint of deacons and his name is included in
Eucharistic Prayer I of the Mass.