Growing up with Irish step dancing daughters, I have always understood that December 26, St. Stephen’s Day, was a special holiday reserved for Irish dancing and traditions. I really didn’t understand the true meaning of the day but our afternoon excursion to a little village pub was about to change all that.
This afternoon we found ourselves in Powers Thatch Pub in Oughterard, Ireland. As our family relaxed in the festive town bar named for my maiden name and decorated for Christmas, we felt happy and peaceful on the day after the birth of Christ. There was something simple and beautiful about being together in this small village on the west coast of Ireland while celebrating our family heritage with the one who made us proud to be Irish. It was a joy to watch my dad in the pub surrounded by his big, loving family. Dad happily talked to strangers and contentedly sipped his Smithwicks pint. As we watched the local Irish children come into the bar dressed up in costume and singing songs, we learned a bit more about this traditional day from our bartender.
St. Stephen was a man of heroic faith who didn’t flinch when faced with stoning by unbelievers who were threatened by his zeal for Christ. After a bit of digging, we also learned that witness’ to his strong faith were greatly impacted by St. Stephen, namely Saul who would one day become the great St. Paul. St. Stephen learned to trust the voice of the Holy Spirit in his heart, even when things seemed dismal for him. He is a great example for all of us and the Irish have kept his memory alive.
The ladies in our family (ages 16 to 50s) sat together at the bar, enjoying a lively conversation on the saint of the day and the impact his life must have made on so many people. Our discussions led to many topics including the importance of faith in this life. Each one of us felt awed by the fact that we had this opportunity to spend Christmas together in such a special place. Considering the family sadness of the past two years without our precious mom, it has taken quite a bit of faith to experience this glimpse of the power of God working together in each one of us. Through our shared love and support of one another, we have been able to experience happiness and joy. The pain, grief and sadness in our lives had melted away for just a brief moment. Perhaps this was the message St. Stephen was trying to convey so many centuries ago…love one another as Christ has loved you. When you do this, you will experience His peace which is greater than anything the world can offer. Then you will be able to offer His peace to others.
A faint whisper of music caught my ear and I looked over at the other side of the pub to see a group of Irish men with traditional instruments. As the group began to play, my dad signaled to them that his granddaughters were Irish dancers. They smiled then called the girls up to dance. In that instant, I felt as if another act of faith had brought us to this moment as the entire Powers family gathered in this pub with Grace and Emma kicking up their heels to a reel while the whole bar cheered and clapped. It was surreal and delightful and something that none of us will ever forget, least of all my dad. After two years of sadness at the loss of his lifelong love Joanie, it was good to see my dad smile a real smile again.
St. Stephen was right in his conviction that faith is essential for happiness in this life. Without it, I would be lost. Life has a way of throwing us curveballs and without faith, it is easy to get knocked down. With faith in Christ, there is always someone there holding your back so that you don’t fall down when things get tough. We all experience these things whether they be back pain, terminal illness, relationship trouble, financial struggle, loss of a loved one and so on. My parents have taught me that with faith in God, any obstacle can be overcome. With faith, we are never alone. With faith, we have nothing to be afraid of. With faith, we have the strength to stand strong and face our problems with courage. I’m grateful that St. Stephen reminded me of that today. Perhaps you might want to remember it too as we prepare to bring in the New Year.