"All past persecutors of the Church are now no more, but the Church still lives on. The same fate awaits modern persecutors; they, too, will pass on, but the Church of Jesus Christ will always remain, for God has pledged His Word to protect Her and be with Her forever, until the end of time." – St John Bosco
Gospel Text: (MT 10:17-22)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts
and scourge you in their synagogues,
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake
as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over,
do not worry about how you are to speak
or what you are to say.
You will be given at that moment what you are to say.
For it will not be you who speak
but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death,
and the father his child;
children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”
In the midst of all the Christmas joy, the Church reminds us in today’s gospel that Christ’s coming into the world is not welcomed by everyone. We celebrate today the feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. We have heard in the first reading of today that some “could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which [Stephen] spoke” (Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59). They opposed his teaching, became furious and murdered him by stoning. Even in the face of death, Stephen prayed and confessed his faith in Christ as the Son of God, seeing “the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
St. Stephen experienced what Christ told his disciples and us in today’s Gospel: being challenged and opposed, even persecuted, is unavoidable as many violently reject Jesus’s teaching. Stephen, however, encourages us not to lose faith as “the Spirit of your Father” will speak through us and those who endure will be saved. For most of us a commitment to follow Christ does not require the sacrifice of life, such as in the case of Stephen. However, many Catholics experience severe opposition today in many places in the world.
Nothing can turn the tide against anti-Catholic sentiment that exists in our culture more powerfully than the joy-filled, confident witness of people who are filled with the Holy Spirit in loving service of their neighbor, especially the poor.