St. Stephen’s Day Travel

Late Sunday, at my dad’s place on the far North Side of Chicago. Cold out, though warmer here than it has been recently, and there’s an inch or two of snow on the ground. Basically it’s a quick drop-in to see everyone post-Christmas: my brother John and his family are here from Brooklyn, and of course the rest of the family is rooted here in Chicago. The only thing notable about the flight from San Francisco, other than the fact I misplaced by boarding pass at the security check, was that it was the first time I’ve ever flown first class. That was the result of using frequent-flier miles at the last minute and discovering there were no coach seats available; but there were first-class seats if I was willing to pay for a few thousand extra miles to get one. So I did, and wound up getting a round-trip first-class ticket for a couple hundred bucks. There actually is a difference from coach. Lots and lots of leg room. Identifiable food. Refreshing hot towels. Actual glasses and dishes. Free alcohol, though it was a morning flight and I wasn’t inclined to avail myself of that amenity. I betrayed the fact I was a first-time first-class flier when the meal came and I couldn’t find the tray table. The attendant had to tell me where it was. My seatmate, with whom I exchanged not a word the entire trip, couldn’t find hers either. Maybe another upwardly displaced person from the coach class.

That’s all, except to mention it’s St. Stephen’s Day, the feast of my namesake saint. Beyond the name, I was always taken with St. Stephen: First, because he is said to be the first Christian martyr; stoned to death, though I have no idea who stoned him, exactly, or what he did to start the rocks flying. I also always wondered how he wound up with such a plum calendar spot — the day after Jesus’s birthday, a near guarantee that people are going to remember your day if they care. Who gave Stephen the 26th, and what was the process? The answers are out there.

3 Replies to “St. Stephen’s Day Travel”

  1. From the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14286b.htm:
    ….The conflict broke out when the cavillers of the synagogues “of the Libertines, and of the Cyreneans, and of the Alexandrians, and of them that were of Cilicia and Asia”, who had challenged Stephen to a dispute, came out completely discomfited (vi, 9 10); wounded pride so inflamed their hatred that they suborned false witnesses to testify that “they had heard him speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God” (vi, 11).
    No charge could be more apt to rouse the mob; the anger of the ancients and the scribes had been already kindled from the first reports of the preaching of the Apostles. Stephen was arrested, not without some violence it seems (the Greek word synerpasan implies so much), and dragged before the Sanhedrin, where he was accused of saying that “Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place [the temple], and shall change the traditions which Moses delivered unto us” (vi, 12 14). No doubt Stephen had by his language given some grounds for the accusation; his accusers apparently twisted into the offensive utterance attributed to him a declaration that “the most High dwelleth not in houses made by hands” (vii, 48), some mention of Jesus foretelling the destruction of the Temple and some inveighing against the burthensome traditions fencing about the Law, or rather the asseveration so often repeated by the Apostles that “there is no salvation in any other” (cf. iv, 12) the Law not excluded but Jesus. However this may be, the accusation left him unperturbed and “all that sat in the council…saw his face as if it had been the face of an angel” (vi, 15).
    Stephen’s answer (Acts, vii) was a long recital of the mercies of God towards Israel during its long history and of the ungratefulness by which, throughout, Israel repaid these mercies. This discourse contained many things unpleasant to Jewish ears; but the concluding indictment for having betrayed and murdered the Just One whose coming the Prophets had foretold, provoked the rage of an audience made up not of judges, but of foes. When Stephen “looking up steadfastly to heaven, saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God”, and said: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (vii, 55), they ran violently upon him (vii, 56) and cast him out of the city to stone him to death. Stephen’s stoning does not appear in the narrative of the Acts as a deed of mob violence; it must have been looked upon by those who took part in it as the carrying out of the law. According to law (Lev., xxiv, 14), or at least its usual interpretation, Stephen had been taken out of the city; custom required that the person to be stoned be placed on an elevation from whence with his hands bound he was to be thrown down. It was most likely while these preparations were going on that, “falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (vii, 59). Meanwhile the witnesses, whose hands must be first on the person condemned by their testimony (Deut., xvii, 7), were laying down their garments at the feet of Saul, that they might be more ready for the task devolved upon them (vii, 57). The praying martyr was thrown down; and while the witnesses were thrusting upon him “a stone as much as two men could carry”, he was heard to utter this supreme prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (vii, 58). Little did all the people present, casting stones upon him, realize that the blood they shed was the first seed of a harvest that was to cover the world.

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