Feast of Saint Stephen, martyr
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, looks at what Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory may be like. His ideas and approach are surprising and thought provoking. In Lewis' afterlife the deceased are given the opportunity to choose to walk toward God's holy mountain with the help of a guide (reminiscent of Dante's Divine Comedy). The guide chosen for them is usually someone they were familiar with in life.
With today's Feast of St. Stephen I am reminded of section from that book. In this chapter a man meets his guide and remembers that the guide was a murderer in life. Here is a portion of the conversation:
"Well, I'm damned," said the Ghost (the man given the opportunity to choose Heaven). "I wouldn't have believed it. It's a fair knock-out. It isn't right, Len, you know. What about poor Jack, eh? You look pretty pleased with yourself, but what I say is, What about poor Jack."
"He is here," said the other. "You will meet him soon, if you stay."
"But you murdered him."
"Of course I did. It is all right now."
"All right, is it? All right for you, you mean. But what about the poor chap himself, laying cold and dead?"
"But he isn't. I have told you, you will meet him soon. He sent you his love."
What I'd like to understand," said the Ghost, "is what you're here for, as pleased as Punch, you, a bloody murderer, while I've been walking the streets down there (the outlying areas of Hell) and living in a place like a pigsty all these years."
"That's a little hard to understand at first. But it is all over now. You will be pleased about it presently. Till then there is no need to bother about it."
"No need to bother about it? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"No. Not as you mean. I do not look at myself. I have given up myself. I had to, you know, after the murder. That was what it did for me. And that was how everything started."
In today's Gospel Jesus tells us that children will be turned over to the persecution by parents and parents by children. He tells us that brothers will turn in brothers. In the First Reading, those who are stoning Stephen are placing their coats at the feet of a man named Saul who will become St. Paul.
So our question today is this, can we forgive our enemies while we are here on earth? We must if we hope to get to Heaven. We cannot hold grudges in Heaven. We cannot refuse to speak to a sibling in Heaven over an argument on earth. We cannot ignore a parent who wasn't there for us on earth when we get to Heaven. In Heaven, we will not be able to hate the person who murdered our loved one. Otherwise, we would not be in Heaven.
Today the Church presents to us not only the first martyr for Christ but the first to imitate Christ completely. He was praying for, and forgiving those who were in the act of killing him. As he entered into Heaven we can be sure he longed for the salvation of those hated him. So too, should we.
FROM THE SAINTS - "And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name. His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbour made him pray for those who were stoning him. Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven." - Saint Fulgentius from the Office of Readings for Saint Stephen, martyr.
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