Tag Archives: Saint Stephen

7 December: One man went to mow.

John cutting the grass.

John was not the only student at seminary who enjoyed mowing but he favoured this monster while my preference was for the heavy green model with the seat over the roller. I could switch off from daily cares whilst cutting smooth pathways through the rough grass that John left behind. Fr H used the boundary path to pace up and down saying his breviary, we met regularly during my afternoon working hour.

When Fr P asked why he did not see me in chapel very often, I told him it was about the most distracting place in the premises, with continual creaks and groans from the benches and the floor, which had been a NAAFI (Military club) dance hall during World War II. I was better able to meditate behind the mower.

I have a feeling that my poor physical co-ordination was cancelled out by the power of the mower, removing one source of anxiety, and the constant noise of the engine was paradoxically quieter than the chapel, which Fr P thought of as silent. Well, there’s no going back; the place was demolished years ago.

Dead, too, is Fr Marcel, who received a ribbing when he could not find the spark plugs on the college tractor, used for the football pitch. His turn to gloat came when ‘my’ mower lost its grip on a sloping lawn – the motorised roller was a weak point – and landed itself and me in the goldfish pond. Marcel came along with the red tractor to haul the mower out. I splashed some oil about, checked the filters and all was well.

Why remember this now? Well, the afternoon of my writing, Thomas Quartier OSB was talking about saying the Divine Office when not in community. ‘My car becomes my oratory’, he said, ‘and incidentally my driving improves.’

Let’s allow silence to find us wherever we are.

Fr Thomas was speaking at Saint Stephen’s Canterbury’s celebration of the anchorite Dame Loretta, who was enclosed at Saint Stephen’s Church in the year 1221 by Archbishop Stephen Langton. Follow the link to hear the day’s talks.


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Going viral XXXIV: Passion flowers on our doorstep.

Walking around during lockdown, we came to Saint Stephen's church. Many years ago we came here regularly for Roman Catholic Mass. Today the church, like all churches, is closed, but not the churchyard. We found one stone with a passionflower, bottom centre of the disc, amid roses, a morning glory (?) and others that must have meant something to the bereaved husband. There are oak leaves and acorns in the triangular panels below the disc.

This verse is my best reading of the damaged inscription. It speaks of hope.

A happy world, a glorious place
Where all who are forgiven
Shall find their loved and best beloved
And hearts like meeting streams that flow
For everyone in heaven.

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26 December: Sober this Christmas?

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I was looking for inspiration for Saint Stephen’s day, a martyrdom straight after the birth of baby Jesus. I also had an eye open for frankincense, because Abel is to play Caspar the Wise Man or King in the school Nativity play. Siesta is the obvious shop for such things in Canterbury and they did not disappoint: half a dozen sticks of frankincense, or so they claim were soon found and in my bag.

It was on my way out that I saw the card, the bright red was hard to ignore. The message on the front read, ‘What’s sobriety got to do with Christmas’, which reminded me of the ancient card or cracker joke: ‘be like the early Christians this Christmas, get stoned.’ Which brings us back to Saint Stephen, shown here with a pile of the stones people used to kill him. The statue is above the main door of his Church in Canterbury.

Already on Pentecost Day the Apostles had been accused of drunkenness because of their proclamation of the Good News (Acts 2:15). A few weeks later Stephen was arrested, and his words sound like a drunken illusion (Acts 7:56-60).

Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, [who was] calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Even when stone-cold sober, people can act irrationally and sinfully; a sobering message indeed.

Let us pray for all our Christian sisters and brothers who are trying to live out their vocation as members of a minority, sometimes suspected of treason, open to accusations of blasphemy, and liable to suffer violence and murder.

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18 April. Stations of the Cross for Peter: XII, Jesus dies.

winchester crucifix

Winchester Cathedral, MMB

James, Stephen – and eventually Peter himself – were to die for Jesus. But this was a moment of desolation for his friend, the rock.

Scripture References: Jesus the Carpenter: Luke 2:51-52; Mattheew 13: 53-58; Call of the Fishermen: Mark 1: 16-20; Call of the rich young man: Luke 18: 18-25; Stephen: Acts Ch 6-7; James: Acts 12:1-3.

this looks like the end of a wasted life. He could have carried on as a carpenter, and we could have stayed by the lake, catching fish all our days. Good, honest, useful work: absolutely nothing wrong with that.

But Jesus said there was more to life than earning a good living. Sell everything, he told that rich lad, then come and follow me.

We followed him, at times a long way behind and not knowing where we were going. Look what happened to Stephen and James! Stones and the sword, more blood on the cobbles.


And yet Stephen saw Heaven opened, and Jesus there, with open arms, waiting. He is waiting for me, now.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

Let us pray for all who are facing a crisis in their faith or a relationship at this time, that they may be granted courage for the next step.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom!

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26 December: Saint Stephen the Deacon

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I am always jolted by the contrast between the story of a humble birth on 25th, and of a violent death by mob today. To explore this, we offer another reflection from Pope Benedict XVI. WT,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Every year on the day after the Birth of the Lord the liturgy has us celebrate the Feast of St Stephen, a deacon and the first martyr. The Book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as a man full of grace and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 6:8-10; 7:55). Jesus’ promise, recorded in today’s Gospel text, was fulfilled in him: believers called to bear witness in difficult and dangerous circumstances will not be abandoned or defenceless; the Spirit of God will speak through them (cf. Mt 10:20).

Stephen the Deacon, in fact, worked, spoke and died motivated by the Holy Spirit, witnessing to the love of Christ even to the supreme sacrifice. The Protomartyr is described in his suffering as a perfect imitation of Christ, whose Passion is repeated even in the details. The whole of St Stephen’s life is shaped by God, conformed to Christ, whose Passion is replicated in him; in the final moment of death, on his knees he takes up the prayer of Jesus on the Cross, commending himself to the Lord (cf. Acts 7:59) and forgiving his enemies; “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (v. 60). Filled with the Holy Spirit, when his eyes were about to be dimmed for ever, he fixed his gaze on “Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55), the Lord of all and who draws all beings to himself.

On St Stephen’s Day we too are called to fix our eyes on the Son of God whom in the joyful atmosphere of Christmas we contemplate in the mystery of his Incarnation. Through Baptism and Confirmation, through the precious gift of faith nourished by the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, Jesus Christ has bound us to him and with the action of the Holy Spirit, wants to continue in us his work of salvation by which all things are redeemed, given value, uplifted and brought to completion. Letting ourselves be drawn by Christ, as St Stephen did, means opening our own life to the light that calls it, guides it and enables it to take the path of goodness, the path of a humanity according to God’s plan of love. Lastly, St Stephen is a model for all who wish to put themselves at the service of the new evangelisation. He shows that the newness of the proclamation does not consist primarily in the use of original methods or techniques — which of course, have their usefulness — but rather in being filled with the Holy Spirit and letting ourselves be guided by him.

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30th January – Venturing into the Mystery

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When believers collaborate in removing fears, or making a life-affirming future more genuinely possible, they agree to view that future as unfolding in the hands of God. This means that their own daily lives become more consciously attuned to what God’s love is disclosing for them. They appreciate a spiritual dimension to their relationships which treats even the unknown future still being shaped by God as attractive. It can only become attractive, however, if we agree that a profound mystery is what attracts and guides us. The mystery may be God, or may be Christ, or may be the ways of the Spirit dimly glimpsed through passages of Scripture.

Marc Chagall’s stained glass for the Stephans Dom in Mainz, a major cathedral, was a collection of some of the most profoundly religious images of his life. He uses both images of human beings and symbolic shapes and colours, to indicate a dimension of invisible energies that brings vitality to those who struggle and suffer most. We cannot picture God, but we can be open to God’s readiness to bend down to touch and guide our human experience. Chagall uses both Christian and Jewish themes. For both faiths, hope is directed, like faith, towards an invisible and profound reality of compassion.

This makes life’s journey a venture into surprising and delightful newness, as well as dangers and unforeseen tensions. We must hold our hearts open to the consoling and revelatory moments of divine light which take our motives into a higher realm.



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* 26th December: Saint Stephen’s Day Reflection

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St Stephen – statue over porch at St Stephen’s, Hackington, Canterbury – carrying bread, with a cairn of stones behind him.

Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in  their synagogues.  Mt. 10: 17f

Beware, Jesus says.  They will hand you over.  Brother will betray brother…. but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.  These things will happen.  Jesus is not talking about a mere probability here.  Jesus is making a statement of fact.  Nor does he qualify the statement by saying, ‘But these things might not happen to you.’  Rather, he suggests that all the disciples must be prepared.

This is the day after Christmas, something that makes the poignancy of Jesus’ words even sharper.   Our minds are full of images not of disaster, but of an infant – with all the vulnerability and irresistible infant beauty this implies.  On the other hand, today’s Gospel, along with the celebration of the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, highlights not the image of the baby, but the disastrous, morally sordid world where God’s Son became that baby.  Of course, we are meant to do some lateral thinking: this world is the one God became a human being in, to save it.   But, Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel don’t sound much like salvation.   Of course, it’s possible I’ve got the wrong idea of salvation.

StStephen's.jpgSt Stephen’s, Hackington

Perhaps Jesus is telling me here that he’s not a spiritual handyman who comes to “fix” everything.  For he does not fix anything, as today’s Gospel makes blazingly obvious.  And certainly fix is the wrong word entirely.  A better word might be fills.  In becoming a man, in experiencing the crucifying reality of sin, in drinking the bitter cup all the way down to the dregs, Jesus is not merely one more innocent victim in a depraved world.  Although Jesus is not a fixer, and brother will continue to betray brother until the end of time, Jesus nonetheless fills this experience, fills the complete absence of goodness with all Goodness.

Can I get my head around this paradox?  There is no fixing, but there is filling.  There is no personal exemption from misfortune for Jesus’ disciples, but there is personal incorporation into Jesus through baptism, and though living a life of faith.  There are profound sufferings for disciples of Jesus to endure, but Jesus’ capacity to fill with life life’s bitterest sorrows is his legacy to his disciples.

Can it possibly be so?  Yes, it can.  Even as I know that Jesus’ predictions of the disasters that will befall his disciples are true, I also know the truth to which Saint Stephen testifies today: that in exactly such bitter experiences of sin, betrayal, and murderous violence the encounter with God can now take place.  This – astonishingly – is precisely the point where heaven is thrown open and the glory of God shines forth, with Jesus at God’s right hand.  The man who stands firm to the end will be saved.  This is truly Good News.


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