To-day is the feast of my confirmation patron, and, despite mortal flesh wanting to rest after the exertions (religious and culinary) of Christmas, I rose from bed for early Mass at Carmel for to honour St Stephen, since I always feel bad if through sloth I miss the Liturgy for his feast.
Fr Peter was Thomistic in his approach: Is it not incongruous to think on blood and gore the day after Christmas, when surely the whole Octave should be about the Christ-Child? No, said he, on the contrary this feast of the First Martyr is all about Christ and His Life: for in death the martyr does not reject life, but offers it, as Christ did His whole life long, to the glory of God. He pointed out to the nuns that they "with all their spare time" (titters from within the screen) ought take time to read at one sitting the whole history of St Stephen in Acts chapters six and seven, reflecting on how perfectly it mirrors Our Saviour's trial and passion: the betrayal, the false charges, the false witnesses, the true testimony of the accused, and the murderous anger of the judges at the mention of the truth about the Son of Man standing at the Right of God. Both pray for their enemies as they die; only the manner of death is different, but this is not material.
So, too, with and for us: we all should live such lives in Christ as true Christians that with St Paul - converted by Stephen's prayers from a murderous enemy to the great Apostle - we may rightly say, I live, now not I, but Christ Who lives in me. In such a case, our death (be it one of martyrdom, or one due to cancer, old age, or car accident, or any cause whatsoever) will be not a giving up of life but the entire holocaust of ourselves into the hands of God, an offering of our life to the Father, offered up in intercession for the benefit of others.