"Help each other to live and to grow in the Christian faith so as to be valiant witnesses of the Lord. Be united, but not closed. Be humble, but not fearful. Be simple, but not naive. Be thoughtful, but not complicated. Enter into dialogue with others, but be yourselves." - Pope Benedict XVI, Genoa, Italy, May 18, 2008
(Scripture Text: Acts 7:51—8:1a)
Stephen said to the people, the elders, and the scribes: “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become. You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, 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 Stephen 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.” Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his execution.
Stephen was a deacon appointed by the apostles to care for the poor of Jerusalem. He embraced the insurgent vision of the young Christian movement and along the way he became a man transformed. Dragged into court, his strong words rattled the elders and shocked the bystanders. This man seemed to curse the ground on which they stood.
It is not easy to hear those who call us to account and expose our hypocrisy as a society. “Troublemakers”, their words are strident; they ask too much of us. “They really don’t belong”. As a result, the mob drove Stephen from the city and stoned him to death.
History has often shown us that people are divided into those who throw the stones and those crushed by oppression. This way of sorting overlooks most people’s role as bystanders. Where am “I” as the stones fly past? Once again, we are living at a time when we as Catholics, in the not-so-distant future may be persecuted for our beliefs, for proclaiming the Truth, but that should not deter us.
Remember always, “Do not be afraid”. That phrase, by the way, is noted in the Bible over 300 times. So never forget it!
All baptized Christians have been entrusted with a mission from God, a mission to proclaim the Gospel at all times, regardless of the circumstances. We as Catholics must live for the Truth of Jesus, as proclaimed by the Church, never letting anyone or anything stand in our way. There is a New Evangelization that is occurring within the Catholic Church today. Amidst the darkness of the modern world, the light of Truth and Love found in the Church continues to shine. We must strive to become a beckon of that light to the world around us. This begins with surrendering ourselves to Christ.
Today’s scripture passage at Mass ends with Stephen being martyred. While this was taking place Saul was giving his consent, probably because he could not understand why someone would give their very life for a man crucified. What he soon realized, however, is that Stephen was not willing to die for a poor carpenter that taught people “good ideas about life”. Rather, Stephen lived for the eternal Truths that God revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ, and, that choice cost Stephen his life. Ironically enough, in time, Saul, later Paul, discovered those same Truths for himself. Again, that choice cost him his life. He did not give up, let up, or quiet down until the end. He was a disciple of Christ.
So, too, we called to be!