Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] (1891-1942)
Carmelite, martyr, co-patron of Europe:
Closest to the newborn Saviour we see Saint Stephen. What secured the first martyr of the Crucified this place of honour? In youthful enthusiasm he accomplished what the Lord said upon his entrance into the world, “A body you have prepared for me. Behold, I come to fulfill your will” (Heb 10:5-7). He practised the complete obedience that is rooted in love and revealed in love.
He followed the Lord in what may be, by nature, the most difficult and even, apparently, impossible for the human heart. He fulfilled the command to love one’s enemies as did the Saviour himself. The Child in the manger, who has come to fulfil his Father’s will even to death on the cross, sees before him in spirit all who will follow him on this way. His heart goes out to the youth whom he will one day await with a palm as the first to reach the Father’s throne. His little hand points him out to us as an example, as if to say, “See the gold that I expect of you.”
Hymn to Saint Stephen
O Captain of the Martyr host!
O peerless in renown!
Not from the fading flowers of earth
Weave we for thee a crown.
The stones that smote thee, in thy blood
Made beauteous and divine,
All in a halo heavenly bright
About thy temples shine.
The scars upon thy sacred brow
Throw beams of glory round;
The splendours of thy bruised face
The very sun confound.
Oh, earliest victim sacrificed
To thy dear Victim Lord!
Oh, earliest witness to the faith
Of thy Incarnate God!
Thou to the heavenly Canaan first
Through the Red Sea didst go,
And to the Martyrs’ countless host
Their path of glory show.
Erewhile a servant of the poor,
Now at the Lamb’s High Feast,
In blood-empurpled robe arrayed,
A welcome nuptial guest!