The Holy Spirit Deep In Enemy Territory
”Life is not a PG feel-good movie. Real life often ends badly. Literature tries to document this reality, while showing us it is still possible for us to endure nobly.” ~ Matthew Quick
Why is it so hard to admit it when we’re wrong? I ask this question rhetorically of course, for many has been the time when I remained heels-dug-in-the-dirt obstinate in my misguided defense of an argument that was weak at best, dead wrong at worst. As such, I have no suitable answer to the question. For those in need of an example, I encourage you to tune in to any one of a number of the Prime Time Cable News Channels, although I wouldn’t advise you to stick around too long. If television is your vice, EWTN is a far better alternative. But I digress....
Today’s 1st Reading (Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59) is one of the earliest recorded incidents of this phenomena on display as we revisit the death of the protomartyr himself Saint Stephen, at the hands of a blood thirsty crowd who essentially by their own admission were on the wrong end of the argument. “They could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke,” we are told, and in a fit of furious rage fortified by the peculiar logic of ‘we have rocks and you don’t,’ Stephen is stoned to death, thus becoming the first member of the Communion of Saints to claim the title Martyr.
Yesterday the world celebrated its Savior and King, who vacated the tabernacle of the virgin’s womb and lovingly visited the world. Today his soldier Stephen vacates the tabernacle of his body and proceeds triumphantly into heaven. It has been said that the Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their ‘birth into heaven.‘“ Today therefore we celebrate the birth of Stephen, which in its depth springs forth from the birth of Christ.
When Jesus, the word made flesh, entered this world he did not arrive empty-handed. Instead he imparted a great gift upon his beloved that not only enriched them, but also made them unconquerable in battle. Love was his gift, and it was given freely to all so that they may share in his divinity. It was this love that brought Christ from heaven to earth. It raised Saint Stephen from earth to heaven.
Love was Saint Stephen’s sole weapon by which he secured victory in every battle, including his last and most important one. His love of God fortified him in the face of a hostile mob. His love of neighbor compelled him to pray for those who were stoning him, saving them from eternal punishment, for as Jesus teaches us, “those sins you forgive are forgiven” (John 20:23). Galvanized by the sheer power of his love, he overcame Saul, a notorious Christian terrorist, no better than a modern day Taliban or ISIS Member, and made his persecutor on earth his companion in heaven. He sought to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by way of his substantial evangelical talent.
Paul now rejoices in heaven with Stephen. It is with Stephen that he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen that his soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord as Mary’s did in her Magnificat. Was Stephen praying for Paul during his lengthy imprisonment, persecution and execution in the latter stages of his life from his heavenly eternal dwelling place? You can be sure of it.
Today’s Gospel (Matthew 10:17-22), aptly chosen on this the day we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Stephen, finds Jesus preparing his Apostles for the persecution and resistance that they will inevitably face.
“You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” Jesus tells them, but not before assuring them that the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that fortified Stephen, would never depart their side.
Christians live in what CS Lewis used to call “enemy territory.” There are enemies of the faith. To ignore this fact is naive and dangerous. These enemies abuse divine revelation, science and history. They abuse power, they abuse wealth. To them truth is relative, swaying in the breeze at the whim of whatever is trendy or expedient. They call themselves “progressives,” a not-so-subtle jab at those who oppose them, those who in their eyes are anti-progress as they define the word.
In two days the Church will remember the Holy Innocents, those infants who were ruthlessly slaughtered at the hands of a maniacal, psychopathic, power-hungry king. Fast forward approximately 2,000 years to a world in which the slaughter of the innocents, where an estimated 125,000 babies are aborted every day, is called “reproductive healthcare.” This is “progress” in the eyes of those who shun Jesus’ teachings and concoct their own ’truth.’
Like the Apostles, we too must rely on the Holy Spirit. We must pray to the Holy Spirit, we must pray for the Holy Spirit to wash over us, seeking the gifts of wisdom, understanding, piety, and yes, fortitude.
The fortitude to endure.
”Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.
…..and they shalt endure. Deep within the confines of enemy territory.