Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Protomartyr

Already the Cross which we glimpsed only last night as we lay the Child in his Crib is now fully in view. The Octave of Christmas begins with the feast of St Stephen, protomartyr, the first to witness to the Gospel of Christ with his life; and so, the bloodshed continues as the week unfolds! Perhaps the festive crimson which is such a dominant colour at Christmastime is indeed and infact the blood of the martyrs spilt for Christ, the King of Martyrs.

Meditating upon this, the poet Patrick Carey, a Benedictine monk (d.1651), gives us a very different image of Christ in the Cradle from the cosy Nativity scenes we see and it has been set to music by Kenneth Leighton, a Yorkshire-born composer in his cantata, 'Crucifixus pro nobis, op.38':

"Look, how he shakes for cold!
How pale his lips are grown!
Wherein his limbs to fold
Yet mantle has he none.
His pretty feet and hand
(Of late more pure and white
Than is the snow
That pains them so)
Have lost their candour quite.
His lips are blue
(Where roses grew).
He’s frozen everywhere:
All th’heat he has
Joseph, alas,
Gives in a groan; or Mary in a tear."

In like manner then, the Liturgy turns our eyes away from the joyous carols and light festivities that rightly accompany the celebration of our redemption, to look upon the Cross which accomplished our salvation. The Liturgy does this by holding out St Stephen as model and witness; he who shed his blood, in imitation of Christ, for the salvation of others by preaching the Gospel of truth. As such, Von Balthasar says that "the level adopted by God in his Incarnation [is] the level of poverty, crib, flight; of Nazareth, the wilderness, nomadic existence; of the Cross and the grave" (You Crown the Year, p293) and it is this level that we too must come down to and share with God, Emmanuel. St Stephen, the first of Christian martyrs, led the way of total self-giving for and to Christ which we are called to follow.

Below is a hymn I partially composed in 2002 for my parish of St Stephen's in Skipton, North Yorkshire. It is based on an older hymn by C. Meyer, SJ which I re-modelled and adapted. It was intended to be sung to the tune 'Blaenwern' (87.87.D):

"Holy Stephen, Christ’s dear martyr,
First to shed your blood for him.

What bright glory now surrounds you,

Glory which no time can dim!

O that we could share that glory;

Serving him with life and blood!
Let us praise your noble story,
Told with life’s own crimson flood.

Stephen, full of grace and power,
Preaching the Good News abroad
And enlivened by the Spirit,
You gave witness to the Word.
Called to serve and feed God’s people,
Faithful, though opposed by Saul.

This is Christ’s own Way you teach us -

Active love for one and all.

Noble witness you did render

To the Passion of your Lord:
Bearing, with a love courageous,

Blows of stones more keen than sword.

Mindful of our loving Saviour

Showing mercy from the Cross,

You raised up your eyes to heaven

Praying mercy on your foes.

Glory be to God the Father,

And to Christ his only Son,

Who at God’s right, with the Spirit,

Reigns while endless ages run.

Grant O Lord, that like Saint Stephen,
We too may receive the grace,

To see heaven’s gates thrown open
And at last behold your face."

The photo above of a stained-glass window of St Stephen is from his church in Skipton. I wish their parish priest, Rev Fr Peter Dawber and the parishioners a blessed and happy Feast day!


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