For this Feast of St. Stephen, the Church provides us a gospel passage (Mt 10:17-22) in which Jesus delivers a very disturbing message to His disciples: eventually torture and death will be their lot for being loyal to Him. It is only at the end of His remarks, the completion of the sentence at top, that He gives real comfort: “but whoever endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22).
This is the second time in three days that “hate” appears in the gospel for the day. Stephen, an early deacon and the first Christian martyr, met his end because of the hate that filled the hearts of his hearers. Yet he returned this loathing with love (the final verse is omitted in which he says with his dying breath, echoing Jesus on the cross: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” — Acts 7:60). Jesus, who is Love (1 Jn 4:16), born into this world on Christmas Day, overcomes hate. On this day following our commemoration of Christ’s nativity, Stephen, who shows love for God and neighbor, “endures to the end,” thus being able to immediately celebrate his birth into the next world.
The message of the Christmas Season is love, not hate. Love trumps hate. Love has the power to convert hate. Starting now, let Love, the Light of the World (Jn 8:12), through us “shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16).