St. Stephen

A poem by Abram Joseph Ryan

First champion of the Crucified!
Who, when the fight began
Between the Church and worldly pride
So nobly fought, so nobly died,
The foremost in the van;
While rallied to your valiant side
The red-robed martyr-band;
To-night with glad and high acclaim
We venerate thy saintly name;
Accept, Saint Stephen, to thy praise
And glory, these our lowly lays.

The chosen twelve with chrismed hand
And burning zeal within,
Led forth their small yet fearless band
On Pentecost, and took their stand
Against the world and sin --
While rang aloud the battle-cry:
"The hated Christians all must die!
As died the Nazarene before,
The God they believe in and adore."
Yet Stephen's heart quailed not with fear
At persecution's cry;
But loving, as he did, the cause
Of Jesus and His faith and laws,
Prepared himself to die.

He faced his foes with burning zeal,
Such zeal as only saints can feel;
He told them how the Lord had stood
Within their midst, so great and good,
How he had through Judea trod,
How wonders marked his way -- the God,
How he had cured the blind, the lame,
The deaf, the palsied, and the maimed,
And how, with awful, wondrous might,
He raised the dead to life and light;
And how his people knew Him not --
Had eyes and still had seen Him not,
Had ears and still had heard Him not,
Had hearts and comprehended not.
Then said he, pointing to the right,
Where darkly rose Golgotha's height:
"There have ye slain the Holy One,
Your Saviour and God's only Son."

They gnashed their teeth in raging ire,
Those dark and cruel men;
They vowed a vengeance deep and dire
Against Saint Stephen then.
Yet he was calm; a radiant light
Around his forehead gleamed;
He raised his eyes, a wondrous sight
He saw, so grand it was and bright,
His soul was filled with such delight
That he an angel seemed.
Then spoke the Saint: "A vision grand
Bursts on me from above:
The doors of heaven open stand,
And at the Father's own right hand
I see the Lord I love."

"Away with him," the rabble cry,
With swelling rage and hate,
But Stephen still gazed on the sky,
His heart was with his Lord on high,
He heeded not his fate.

The gathering crowd in fury wild
Rush on the 'raptured Saint,
And seize their victim, mute and mild,
Who, like his master, though reviled,
Still uttered no complaint.

With angry shouts they rend the air;
They drag him to the city gate;
They bind his hands and feet and there,
While whispered he for them a prayer,
The martyr meets his fate.

First fearless witness to his belief
In Jesus Crucified,
The red-robed martyrs' noble chief,
Thus for his Master died.
And to the end of time his name
Our Holy Church shall e'er proclaim,
And with a mother's pride shall tell
How her great proto-martyr fell.

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