Feast of St. Stephen, first Martyr
"All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked
intently at him and saw that his
face was like the face of an Angel."
... Jesus, the Innocent of the
— and Saint Stephen, innocent of the world
Holy innocence stands, as it were, in perplexity
before the clamor of the world.
We see this in children. They do not know
the ways of the world, only the promptings
of their hearts and the irrepressible joy
borne of total simplicity and untrammeled
trust. Children do not distinguish between
appearances and realities. To them, appearances
are the only realities. There is nothing
of guile in the world, and nothing of malice.
Childhood is that brief stage in our lives
in which we most closely approximate something
of that sinless and happy state that our
first parents, Adam and Eve, had enjoyed
prior to the Fall. Our instincts had not
been honed to survive, but simply to exist.
In this state of the simplicity of
our existence, we most closely conform to
our created nature as the imago Dei,
the Image of God — for it is the image of
the God Whose existence is simplicity itself
and whose simplicity is existence itself.
We become then, like unto our First Parents
in their original state of felicity, or
happiness, and like unto the God in Whose
image our first parents (and subsequently,
we) were made. It is, in a manner of speaking,
a living the Prologue of life, after which
the chapters succeeding the Introduction
(to life) become more complex, and the plot,
as it were, more oblique and potentially
sinister. It is not without warrant that
childhood is often spoken of in terms of
a Garden; a Garden into which as yet no
serpent obtruded itself.
Childhood engages the world with wonder
— a wonder that too quickly vanishes before
the ways of the world, and in direct proportion
to its familiarity with the ways of the
world ... and finally devolves to either
suspicion or cynicism. We learn that the
world is manipulative, deceptive, untruthful,
and in the end, largely corrupt. We enter
adulthood. Are we then forevermore "banished"
from that First Garden of beautiful innocence
— an innocence to which we can never return?
It appears to us much like asking if an
erstwhile virgin can be a virgin once again.
Because we are worldly, sophisticated ...
we laugh. Or should we?
All things are possible
Himself tells us that,
"ómnia enim possibília
sunt apud Deum" — "all things are possible
It is possible to reacquire
lost innocence — and, yes, it is even possible
to reacquire lost virginity. We scorn the
notion because we know the ways of men,
and not the ways of God ... Who has insistently
told us that His ways are not our ways.
Indeed, they are better. Far better. Supremely
better. "So", you ask, "how am I, steeped
in sin — and what is more, with no discernible
way out — to reacquire this innocence of
which you speak, this innocence that I myself
once possessed long ago, and which, in a
sad trade, I had exchanged for the allure
of "sophistication"? Much like Nicodemus,
you effectively ask,
"How can a
man be born when he is old? can he enter
a second time into his mother's womb, and
be born again?"
2 "It is not possible!"
And you are absolutely correct. It is
not possible — to you ... to man ... but
it is possible to God! And
we have countless instances of it — in the
lives of the Saints ... both known and unknown;
enrolled in the Martyrology of the Church
— or the Book of Life in Heaven itself.
Holy innocence? It is not so far from you.
Holy innocence is estrangement from this
world through the soul's utter immersion
Christ ... in a sense, the innocent stand
beneath the unceasing cataract of the Baptismal
Font that perpetually anoints their hearts
— and in pouring upon them the unremitting
love of Christ, removes even the rumor of
malice from their minds. They have been
washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb. They
have died with Christ, and with Christ live
anew. There are even those ... full of years
... who have the innocence of newly Baptised
children! We have all known at least one.
To be in their presence is to be under the
breath of God.
And the world knows not what to make of
them! Within them is a beauty for which
the world has no metaphor – and therefore
cannot pervert to its own ends.
Oh, yes ... the world can — and does, ever
day — exploit innocence, seduce it, corrupt
it, trample it under foot! Utterly of God
– unable to conform to the world, it
can — it must — be stamped
out by the world as a reproach
to the world! And it was always so:
It was radiant on the face of Stephen before
the Sanhedrin – as it was radiant
on the face of Christ before Caiaphas, Herod,
and Pilate – a silent witness and testimony
to the enormity of sin.
Provoking deadly outrage, innocence is extirpated
from our midst. We hang it on a Cross, tear
it from the womb, bury it beneath stones.
It is a reproach to us, the living dead,
by the dead yet living. We would stifle
— were it possible we would bury — their
reproach ... but we cannot lay rest to our
lies. St. Paul tells us that,
"we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses."
They are the innocent, whom we have as surely
put to death by our outrage as the stones
that fell upon Stephen.
You have lost this innocence ... and so
You have lost this innocence ... and so
have I. But both of us can reclaim it, be
clothed once again in this beauty that has
no metaphor — even knowing that we will
be immolated in it, crucified for it, through
that same outrage of the world that first
crucified Christ. Indeed, the servant is
not greater than his Master. The world hated
Him. It will hate you. Christ promised this.
Because we are not of this world. 4
Our true citizenship is Elsewhere and everlasting.
But we fear this; fear the rancor of the
world, and the tribute in pain that it will
attempt to exact from us as Christians,
as Catholics. In one way or another, under
one guise or another, we are summoned to
choose Christ before the menacing face of
the world that will not tolerate Him ...
and if we follow Him, us.
Knowing the price, we politely demur.
We may not persecute the innocent — but
we allow the cloaks of those who have lost
it to be placed at our feet.
for the Boston Catholic Journal
1 St. Mark 10.27
2 St. John 3.4
4 St. John 15.19-20