Which comes first, the acorn or the oak? The tiny acorn, the seed, produces the mighty oak—and yet it was an oak that produced the acorn in the first place. One grows out of the other. Just so, perseverance and hope are the fruit and product of one another in our lives: We persevere, even in the face of difficulties and trials because we have hope. At the same time, this hope is nurtured and strengthened by our perseverance.
St. Stephen, whose feast we celebrate today, stands as an example of what it means to persevere in following Christ. He faced opposition and persecution, just as Our Lord had predicted his followers would: “They will deliver you up to councils, and flog you. . . . Brother will deliver up brother to death . . . and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Matthew 10:17,21,22). Yet St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian era, held fast to the end, because his perseverance, that is his ability to “stay the course”—was founded not on his own willpower but on his hope in God’s promises.
Being with Our Lord, becoming like him, carrying on his mission, suffering with him in order to rise with him: That is what Our Lord calls each of us to persevere in. But that’s possible only if we put our hope in the life of the Holy Spirit which lives in us. And that is possible only if we fix our eyes on the glory to come. Although we may experience suffering or opposition as we follow Our Lord, we will ultimately share his eternal life if we persevere and remain united to him. When he was on earth, Jesus urged his disciples not to be afraid but to trust in God’s care for them: “He who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). This promise is just as sure and true for us, his twenty-first century disciples and followers.
Let us enter the New Year confident that, filled with the Holy Spirit, we will persevere through all the hopes and hurts, triumphs and trials, that await us.