The Pope compared the witness of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, to the many Christians of today “who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for their testimony to Christ.” There are “many, many” martyrs today, the Pope insisted.
“I would say to each of them: if you bear this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Christ and the Church,” he said.
The day after Christmas, the Christian church honors Saint Stephen, the first “martyr” to shed his blood for Christ. In his Angelus message, the Pope held up the example of Stephen as a model of Christian consistency, faithful up to the point of giving his life. “With his martyrdom,” Pope Francis said, “Stephen honors the coming into the world of the King of kings, bears witness to him and offers the gift of his own life.”
The Pope underscored Jesus’ hard words to his disciples: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” It may seem strange to speak of martyrdom the day after Christmas, the Pope suggested, but in reality it fits in perfectly. These words “do not disturb the celebration of Christmas,” Francis said, “but strip it of that false sugarcoating that does not belong it.”
Jesus’ hard words, the Pope continued, “make us realize that in ordeals accepted out of faith, violence is defeated by love, and death by life.” And “to really welcome Jesus in our lives,” he said, we must “bear witness to Jesus in humility and in silent service, without fear of going against the grain or paying in person.”
Francis reminded the crowds in Saint Peter’s Square that although not all are called, like St. Stephen, to shed their blood, “every Christian is nonetheless required to be consistent at all times with the faith he professes.” The Pope urged all Christians to be consistent, and to live as Christians. “Do not say: ‘I am a Christian,’ and then live as a pagan,” the Pope said.
“Never forget,” Pope Francis said Friday, “Christian consistency means thinking, feeling and living like Christians, and not thinking like Christians and living like pagans. Never!”
Francis also said that although following the Gospel is demanding, it is also “beautiful,” and those who live with fidelity and courage “receive the gift promised by the Lord to all men and women of good will,” which, he said, is the gift of peace.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome