Whatever we learn to do, we learn by actually doing it; men come to be builders, for instance, by building, and harp players by playing the harp. In the same way, by doing just acts we come to be just; by doing self-controlled acts, we come to be self-controlled; and by doing brave acts, we become brave. - Aristotle
(Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59)
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, filled with the Holy Spirit,
looked up intently to heaven
and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,
and he said,
"Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man
standing at the right hand of God."
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
"Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
The story of St. Stephen in our reading today communicates a powerful and maybe uncomfortable message. Doing the right thing is hard. Sometimes it can be dangerous, and, as in the case of Stephen and other martyrs, doing the right thing and speaking with the spirit can be fatal. People do inconceivable things to each other in distant places and around the corner. Why do these things happen? Who lets that happen?
We see hateful things everyday. Perhaps we can’t do much about the world’s problems, but we can do something about our own lives. We have to stand up and do the right thing every day. When someone is being demeaned by another person, we can ask God, as Jesus says in the Gospel today at the Mass, to give us what to say, for the grace and wisdom to speak up and stop the tiny bits of hate, of people treating others as less than human. We treat people as less than human when we gossip, when we let an unkind remark go by, when we witness something cruel. While we may not be the ones doing the deed, our roles as silent bystanders help build up those little bits of hate.
We often let ourselves off the hook by thinking these small things don’t matter. I don’t want to make a scene, we say to ourselves. I worry what others might think, we say to ourselves. It’s time to change that message to ourselves. I will speak up because it’s the right thing to do. I will ask God for the grace and wisdom. As the psalm says, “Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your kindness.”
Saint Stephen was a martyr in life. Martyr means “testimony”. To put it in 21st century language, “He put his money where his mouth was”.
So too should today's Christians witnesses of Jesus Christ through eyes of faith, fearlessly proclaim him in plain language and courageous action.