Boxing on the Feast of Stephen

December 26th is the feast day of St. Stephen. He’s the patron saint of “Boxing Day” as it’s known in England. The day families make boxes of rich Christmas meats and presents to redistribute the wealth among the poor.

All that we know of Stephen’s life is in the Acts of the Apostles (6-7). He was one of the seven deacons, probably a Hellenistic Jew, appointed by the apostles to look after the distribution of alms to the faithful (especially the widows) and to help in the ministry of preaching. To judge by his famous discourse, even if it is somewhat ‘retouched’, Stephen was learned in the Scriptures and the history of Judaism, besides being eloquent and forceful.

The gist of his defense of Christianity was that God does not depend on the Temple, in so far as, like the Mosaic Law, it was a temporary institution and destined to be fulfilled and superseded by Christ, who was the prophet designated by Moses and the Messiah whom the Jewish race had so long awaited. He finally attacked his hearers for resisting the Spirit and for killing the Christ as their fathers had killed the prophets.

They then stoned him for blasphemy apparently without a formal trial, while he saw a vision of Christ on God’s right hand. The witnesses placed their clothes at the feet of Saul (afterwards Paul), who consented to his death.

Here’s the old English Christmas carol referring to Stephen:

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I will see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the winds blow stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page. Treadst thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

Fr. Dan Berrigan: ‘Peace I Leave With You’

26142144483_ed8ae3568d_oToday, on the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, we celebrate the life of Daniel J. Berrigan, a Jesuit priest of “uncommon conscience,” as William Stringfellow called him. (See my earlier post.)

Heidi and I attended St. Stephens & the Incarnation Episcopal Church today to hear our friend and pastor Linda Kaufman preach. When we made plans to attend, we didn’t know it would be the day after losing Dan. It was the perfect celebration.

It’s in this church that the Holy Week Faith and Resistance retreats, led by Phil Berrigan, Liz McAlister, Art Laffin and others of the East Coast Catholic Worker and Jonah House communities, have been held for decades. Dan Berrigan spent a lot of nights sleeping on the floor in this church basement.

Linda’s sermon drew on the readings for the sixth Sunday of Easter–Revelation 21 and John 14. The political poetry in Revelation was an apt memorial for Dan: Here the wounded lamb is the center of the healing of the nations. And in John 14 Jesus says to his disillusioned and confused disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The mantle of the Berrigan brothers and the communities and families with them is laid down for us … to take up in community. We cannot be the peace of Christ alone.

A wake, public witness, funeral Mass and celebration of resurrection will be held in New York City on Thursday and Friday, May 5-6.

Wake and funeral arrangements for Father Dan Berrigan
Thursday, May 5:
2-5pm and 7-9pm, Wake
Church of St Francis Xavier
46 W 16th St, New York, NY
Friday, May 6:
7:30am, Peace Witness and March to Xavier (gathering location TBA)
Mass at 10am
Church of St Francis Xavier, 46 W 16th St, New York

Here are bits and pieces of more news about Dan Berrigan’s death (and in us and Christ, his resurrection):

Poet and Prophet: The peacemaking legacy of Daniel Berrigan, SJ (America)

The Life and Death of Dan Berrigan by John Dear

Father Daniel Berrigan, Anti-War Activist & Poet, Dies at 94 (Democracy Now!)

Daniel J. Berrigan, Defiant Priest Who Preached Pacifism, Dies at 94 (New York Times)

Daniel Berrigan, poet, peacemaker, dies at 94 (National Catholic Reporter)

Daniel Berrigan, Activist Jesuit Priest Who Opposed Vietnam War, Dies (NPR)

Born on Iron Range, peace activist and priest Daniel Berrigan dies Minneapolis Star Tribune

Jesuit priest, peace activist Daniel Berrigan dies at 94 (CBS News)