December 26th is the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. It’s somewhat fitting that the day after we contemplate the delicacy of Christ in a manger, we now get back to reality and honour a man who gave his life for Christ.
Reading the story of St. Stephen in Acts 6-7 made me realize just how appropriate his witness is for today, in these times of political correctness pushed to the extreme of quasi-totalitarianism.
It starts with some dudes who pick an argument with Stephen. These dudes “belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called).” How appropriate. Today’s secularists are so eager to proclaim how they’ve been “freed” from the straight-jacket of religion. Little do they realize that they’ve enslaved themselves to all the possessions and pleasures they long for and can’t live without. They have no real freedom, because freedom means you’re able to say “yes” or “no”. If you can’t resist your urges and impulses, then you’re enslaved to them.
The dudes cause a stir by bringing false charges against Stephen: “‘This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.'” In today’s jargon, they’d say “he’s a hater” or “he’s a xyz-phobe”, where xyz can be substituted with the politically-correct cause of the hour. That’s how secularists treat Christians today. Having little of substance to accuse them of, they mischaracterize the expression of moral disapproval as an act of war.
Stephen is given a chance to defend himself, which is more than we can say for many Christians today. He provides an eloquent discourse which his enemies cannot rebut, similar to what happens today. But it doesn’t matter because the enemies are not interested in dialogue. Quite the contrary, they shut down free speech altogether: “But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him.” They covered their ears. What a fitting image for today’s secularists who want no part in honest debate. They just want to shoot first and not ask any questions later.
Fortunately, few of us will suffer Stephen’s fate. Many of us will actually witness plenty of triumphs. Whatever hardships we must endure, God will never be outdone in generosity. The hardest part, for Stephen as for us, is to experience such a violent reaction from people that we’re honestly trying to help by pointing them to the Truth. It’s hard to conceive that a show of goodwill on our part could suscitate an eagerness to destroy someone’s life.
Don’t be alarmed if it keeps happening. But don’t be a doormat either. Remember that Stephen did defend himself. He didn’t just lie down.
I’m feeling more optimistic about the future. I don’t think the extremism of the secularists is sustainable because it’s so irrational to any objective viewer. I have hope that we can push back in a meaningful and constructive way.
St. Stephen, proclaimer of politically-incorrect truths, pray for us.