Immersed in Christ: December 26, 2020
Feast of St. Stephen, the First Martyr
Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit! (Psalm 31)
The Gift of Wisdom is defined as the grace-empowered habit of seeing everything “in the light of the last end.”
Jesus was Wisdom Incarnate. The last words he spoke on this earth were an acceptance of his “last end,” which is the end and goal of every human life: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
In Acts 6:8 to 7:59, Stephen, the first Christian martyr, echoed the words of Jesus as he died: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” This is the model, and the only authentic form, of a truly Christian death. We live to die, and we die to live forever in Christ. In terms of our own well-being, the most important words we will ever speak are. “Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit!” They bring our life back to its beginning and they are the attainment of its end.
To be able to say these words is not something to be taken for granted, however. There was a time in Catholic history when people were afraid that, even after having lived a good life, they would not have the grace of “final perseverance.” The argument was that we can live by the rules of religion day-by-day without ever really coming to terms with how firmly we believe. Then, when the “chips are down” and we are called to abandon everything life offers and go willingly to God in death, our faith might fail.
Hopefully, that fear is not the terror it once was. But we should have a healthy respect for the difference between the ordinary acts of faith that take us through life and the extraordinary, all-inclusive, final act of faith that brings us through the door of death. Fear of the Lord should give us a perspective on this that makes us prepare seriously for that moment. How do we do that?
Stephen’s strength came from his vision of the “end” for which we were made:
Filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
That is the vision we have to keep ourselves aware of in life so that it will be crystal clear to us at death. We should be saying constantly, Into your hands, O Lord, I entrust my spirit!
In Matthew 10:17-22 Jesus tells us that we are called on to say these words whenever our faith brings us into opposition with the attitudes and values of this world. “Be on your guard with respect to others....” But he promises, “When the hour comes, you will be given what you are to say.” If we keep our sights fixed on the end, we will know what to say, both then and in the present. That is Wisdom.
Initiative: Be aware of your beginning and your end. See the present as “between.”