Dec 26 – Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr
St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A deacon and a preacher, all we know of him is related in the Acts of the Apostles. While preaching the gospel in the streets, angry Jews who believed his message to be blasphemy dragged him outside the city, and stoned him to death. In the crowd, on the side of the mob, was a man who would later be known as St. Paul.
- Patron Saint Index
Stephen is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.
“…the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.”
This year marks the fifth year since my dad’s passing. Indeed, it was on the feast of Christ the King that we all sang a hearty, rousing rendition of ‘My Way’ from the viewing gallery as his hearse approached the furnace. I shared last month on my Facebook page that even in death, he brought us joy and laughter. That was dad for you — always the life of the party, never a dull moment when he was around. It is a trait that I somehow latched onto in the early, formative years of my budding advertising career. And it led me down a destructive, self-centred, egotistical path which nearly destroyed me in the process. I know I caused a lot of hurt and distress to those who cared for me.
After my Christ encounter in 2011 at the Conversion Experience Retreat, things changed radically for me. A few months ago, as we were locked down at home due to the circuit breaker, I decided to clean up the side of our house which had been renovated for dad to entertain, after he and mum moved downstairs when I came back from Dubai. After his death, that area had literally become a garden shed, and was used to house all sorts of unwanted stuff that we hardly used. Even when I had friends over for dinner a handful of times, we only sat at the old kitchen table and I kept the rear in darkness.
Then in August this year, I decided to do justice to the area and cleaned it up thoroughly, refurbishing the griller that mum had installed, but was never used. 6 years of rust was sanded away and I cleared away bags of junk. Since then, I have had a few friends over at a time (I can only handle up to 4 for now), cooking for them and having a great time just experimenting with various dishes. I even have a 4-course ‘set menu’ now ready to whip up for those who I want to share my time with. Mum, upon seeing this new-found passion, remarked that I am finally doing what she had intended for dad to do in his retirement years — cook for friends and enjoy their company.
So today when I cook, I honour dad’s spirit and recall fondly how he used to slave over the kitchen stove on weekends, planning and executing the most amazing meals for the eight of us (sis would come by with her brood). I realise that it was no mean feat, conjuring up 6 to 7 dishes, prepping and making sure each was perfectly cooked and served piping hot; all the while with a chilled glass of white wine in hand. That was how he enjoyed his retirement years — cooking for those he loved, not for friends. I, on the other hand, have different ‘pockets’ of friends who I don’t mind having over. Perhaps it is because I never really had a place of my own back here; so now that I at least have my ‘man cave’ (I have decorated the wall with some Liverpool FC paraphernalia), I am finally starting to relish the company of good friends.
Brothers and sisters, we can never deny our true identities which come from our parents. And, in many ways, our traits and habits are a reflection of how we were brought up. My parents used to entertain a lot, which was how I learnt to tend the bar, clear tables and generally look out for guests. And that hospitable nature recently came to the fore, thanks to COVID-19 and that period of lockdown and self-reflection. I guess I am happy to express my kinship with others through my renewed passion for cooking.
Funnily enough, three high school friends decided to come over earlier this week to help me celebrate my birthday. Not for them the usual, raucous, 10-person (spread over 2 tables) meal; they actually planned a menu, consulted with me and sought my ‘approval’ before bringing the food over the day before so that I could prepare the cook. Apart from the obvious fact that we could not gather in groups of more than 5, they said that the space I had created was welcoming, relaxing and ‘chill’. Over the 6 hours, we laughed, reminisced, and had heated debates (local politics, what else?), yet we bonded as if we were back in school. I’d like to think that dad’s spirit lives on and through me, albeit in a slightly different form.
Brothers and sisters, yesterday we celebrated the birth of Jesus, who came to us in human form, carrying in him the ‘genetic code’ of his Father. We carry with us the same genetic information that can be traced back to our parents and forefathers. If we claim to be sons and daughters of God, perhaps we could reflect on whether or not we are living out some of the traits that Jesus possessed in him — after all, the apple never falls far from the tree.
(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you continue to bless us abundantly with your everlasting graces so that we in turn can flourish and live out our true calling as your sons and daughters.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always showering us with your love and peace. And thank you for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.