Saint Stephen

Today, December 26, is the feast of Saint Stephen.  Stephen was one of the first deacons (Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 6).  He is the patron saint of Catholic deacons.  He was also the first martyr.

You’re probably familiar with the song, “Good King Wenceslas“.  “Good King Wenceslas  looked down, on the feast of Stephen.”  The song continues on to tell us that the King went out to help a poor man who was gathering firewood on the King’s property.  Instead of running him off, the King went out and helped the man.  That’s one of the reasons he was called “Good King Wenceslas”.  There was another Czech King Wenceslas, but he was anything but good.

It’s good to recall that the writer of the song thought it was important to mention that this happened on Stephen’s feast day.  It’s also important to remember that the story took place on the day after Christmas.

Happy feast of Stephen!

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Praying “to” the saints

“Why do Catholics pray to the saints.  Only God can answer prayers.”

True enough.  Only God can answer our prayers.  The fact is that we don’t pray to the saints.  We ask the saints to pray for us.  The “litany of the saints” that we say on special occasions concludes with the words “pray for us.”  No Catholic, at least no Catholic who understand his or her faith, ever prays to a saint.

So, what’s the deal?  First of all, we believe that the saints are in heaven.  They are in God’s presence.  Second, we believe that saints have a special connection to us either through our location, through our occupation, through our station in life, or in some other way.  When Catholics are confirmed, we take the name of a saint.  In my case, it’s Saint Patrick.  When I pray, I ask Patrick to pray for me.  Since I’ve adopted him as my personal patron, I believe that he will intercede for me.  I think of him as a friend who lives in heaven.

I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Saint Louis IX is the patron of the Archdiocese.  I believe that he takes a special interest in those of us who live in his namesake city.  Saint Rose Phillipine Du Chesne and Saint Vincent De Paul are also patrons of our Archdiocese.

The Church has designated certain saints as patrons of vocations and occupations.  Saint Stephen, the first deacon, is the patron of deacons, along with Saint Lawrence, and Saint Francis of Assissi.  All three were deacons.  According to saints.sqpn.com, there are 23 saints who were deacons, and that doesn’t include the three that I’ve listed.

Maybe you, or someone you love has cancer.  Saints.sqpn.com lists six patrons saints for you to choose from.  On his feast day, February 3, we pray to Saint Blaise, patron of diseases of the throat.  Here’s a good example of praying through a saint.  When the congregation present themselves for the blessing, the deacon or priest lays crossed candles around the neck and prays,”Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be free from all diseases of the throat and every other illness.” The key word here is “intercession”.  We’re not praying to Saint Blaise.  We’re asking him to pray for us.

Maybe you’re a nurse.  You have eight patrons.  Soldiers, you have sixteen.  Even lawyers have eleven patron saints.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that none of these folks can answer your prayers, but they can put in a good word for you.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters think it’s scandalous that we try to sneak up on God through this spiritual back door.  But the same people will ask you or me to pray for them.  It’s the same thing.  Remember the parable of the persistent widow?  She kept coming back over and over again until the judge relented.  Likewise, I can ask God to bless my ministry.  Or, I can flood heaven with prayers from my patron saints, my friends, and my family.  This takes nothing from God.  It just moves the process along.  I can ask for something 100 times, or I can ask ten people (living and dead) to pray for me ten times.  The result is the same.

Of course, only God answers prayers.  To think otherwise is not Christian.  But if you have friends who have His ear, it doesn’t hurt if they put in a good word for you.

Saints of God, pray for us.

Saint Stephen

saint stephen

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Remember the song, Good King Wenseslaus?  It begins, “Good King Wenseslaus looked out, on the feast of Stephen.”  That would be today.  December 26, the day after Christmas.

In her wisdom, the Church has scheduled this feast on this particular day.  Yesterday we celebrated the birth of the only person ever to come down from heaven and become man.  Today we remember the first person to leave earth and go to heaven as a martyr.

Saint Stephen is particularly important to me as he was the first deacon.  The Apostles were trying to take care of everything in the new Church and they were having a hard time of it.  The Greeks were grumbling that their widows weren’t being served properly.

So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.  Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.
They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.
The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Stephen would be put to death, by order of Saul of Tarsus who would later become Saint Paul.  As they told us often in formation for the diaconate, “Stephen was doing just fine until he opened his mouth.  Then they stoned him to death.  Let that be a lesson to you.”
But the real lesson, I think, is that there’s no gain without risk.  As disciples of Christ, we have two choices.  We can remain quiet and do little to help our brothers and sisters obtain eternal life, or we can take the risk of speaking out.  It’s unlikely that we’ll be stoned to death in the twenty-first century, but we still take a chance of offending someone.  But isn’t that a risk we have to take?