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Receive My Son, Receive My Spirit.


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Phew! What a year it’s been! Yes I mean, the liturgical year, and not the calendar one. It’s a bit unbelievable that we’re already back in Ordinary Time, after what felt like (and actually was) a very short, yet impactful Advent and Christmas. The season plays host to a number of feasts, including the Solemnity of the Mother of God, the feast of the Holy Family, the memorial of the Holy Name of Christ, and a slew of others. But I observed that at the beginning of this most joyful season, there exists a most interesting  juxtaposition.

 

Following the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord is the feast day of St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church. And her protomartyr.

 

The very placement of these two feasts right next to each other has many beautiful, rich theological implications. There’s SO much that can be said about the seemingly contradictory nature of these two days. A day of blessed birth, a night of joy, preceded immediately by a day of bloodshed, and innocent blood, no less.

 

So what’s up with that?

 

Again, there’s a whole well of things that can be said, but I’d like to give voice to just one.


And that’s the theme of giving and receiving, which is certainly not foreign to Christmastide. How and why is this one of the connecting themes between the two events?


Let’s discuss the “how" first.

 

It’s very common during Christmas to hear people say, “Jesus is the reason for the season!” This isn’t just a mindless platitude but a well structured rhyme communicating an eternal truth. The greatest gift one can give is the gift of self. To give yourself wholeheartedly to someone is the deepest expression of love.


And that is precisely what God does in the Incarnation. He gives us indeed the greatest gift of all time. Himself. And He does so in the most vulnerable way possible. Not only in the weakness of human flesh, but in the weakness of a baby. A poor, defenseless child. He gives Himself, whole and entire, unreservedly and unapologetically to us. And that’s definitely worth celebrating. Stephen’s case is quite similar, his penultimate statement being, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). Both Stephen and Christ offer themselves as a gift, Christ, in His Incarnation, to man, and Stephen, in His martyrdom, to God. And both give the ultimate gift, though in different ways. The gift of self. And whereas God wholeheartedly receives Stephen into the abode of Heaven, we must decide whether we desire to receive Christ into our own abode. Our hearts, our homes, our very lives.

 

And as to “why” this connection is important, it is because it presents us the ever-present reality of an eternal exchange, giving for the sake of something greater. A concept many people struggle with, because as human beings, we tend to want to eat our cake and have it.


And these two feasts pose a challenge to that very mindset.


Christ, desiring to unite us and bring us into the blessed life of the Trinity, laid aside the glory of His divinity, and “pitched His tent among us” (John 1:14). Stephen gives his life on earth for the life of God in Heaven, turning his eyes from His accusers to, “the Son of man, standing on the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Stephen presents to us a challenge, that ultimate giving of self that God calls each of us to.


It may not be as grave as being martyred, but in the little things of each day. The words we say (or choose not to say) because of our love for Christ. The things we do for those around us or abstain from doing because the Church has instructed us not to. And in these little things, in these little moments, our love is tested. And thanks be to God for giving us the grace to give Him ourselves in love, just like Stephen did!

 

And in this season of Ordinary Time… no. In EVERY season, may we receive Christ with warmth, fervor, and love into our hearts, and so be received with great rejoicing into the heart of the Father, and the blessed life of God. As we receive His Son, may He receive our spirit.

 

 

EL-Natan Adah-Ogoh,

Nashville, Tennessee.

 

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