St Stephen

Pope Francis       26.12.18   Angelus  St Peter's Square       Acts 6: 8-107: 54-59
https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2018-12/pope-francis-angelus-saint-stephen.html

Forgiveness broadens the heart, generates sharing, and gives serenity and peace.

The contrast between the joyful birth of the little Child and the cruel drama of St. Stephen’s martyrdom may seem strange.

In reality this is not the case, because the Child Jesus is the Son of God made man, who will save humanity by dying on the cross.


St. Stephen was the first person to follow in Jesus’ footsteps through martyrdom. He died like Jesus, entrusting his life to God and forgiving his persecutors.
Stephen displayed an attitude of faithful acceptance of whatever life brings, be it positive or negative. Trust in God helps us to welcome difficult moments and to live them as an opportunity for growth in faith and for building new relationships with our brothers and sisters.

Stephen, also imitated Jesus with an attitude of forgiveness, praying for his persecutors.

We are called to learn from his example to forgive, to forgive always.

Stephen’s example is a way to live our relationships with other people: in the family, at school or work, and in parish life. The logic of forgiveness and mercy always prevails and opens up horizons of hope.

Forgiveness, is cultivated through prayer, which allows us to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus.

Stephen was able to forgive his killers because, full of the Holy Spirit, he looked up intensely to heaven and his eyes were opened by God.

Prayer gave him the strength to suffer martyrdom.

We too need to pray insistently to the Holy Spirit for the gift of strength that heals our fears, our weaknesses, and our small-mindedness.




Pope Francis     25.09.19  General Audience, St Peter's Square      Catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles     Acts 6: 1-15 to  Acts 7: 1- 60

Pope Francis  25.09.19

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

Through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we continue to follow a journey: the journey of the Gospel in the world. St. Luke, with great realism, shows both the fruitfulness of this journey and the onset of some problems within the Christian community. From the beginning there were always problems. How can we harmonize the differences that coexist within the Christian community without conflict and rifts happening?

The community welcomed not only the Jews, but also the Greeks, that is, people from the diaspora, non-Jews, with their own culture and sensibilities and with another religion. Today, we say "pagans. And these were welcomed. This coexistence leads to fragile and precarious balances; and in the face of difficulties comes the "weed", and what is the worst weed that destroys a community? The weed of the murmur, the weeds of the chatter: the Greeks murmur for the inattention of the community towards their widows.

The Apostles initiate a process of discernment that consists of carefully considering difficulties and seeking solutions together. They find a way out by dividing the various tasks for the serene growth of the entire church body to maintain the harmony between the service of the Word and the care of the poorest members.

The Apostles are increasingly aware that their main vocation is prayer and preaching the Word of God: praying and announcing the Gospel; and resolve the issue by establishing a core of "seven men of good reputation, full of Spirit and wisdom"(Acts 6:3), who, after receiving the imposition of hands, carried out works of charity. These are the deacons that are created for this service. The deacon in the Church is not a second priest , he is something else; he is not for the altar, but for service. He is the guardian of service in the Church. When a deacon likes to go to the altar too much, he's wrong. This is not his way. This harmony between service to the Word and service to charity represents the yeast that makes the church body grow.

In fact St Luke immediately afterwards notes that the word of God was spreading the number of disciples in Jerusalem were greatly multiplying.

And the Apostles create seven deacons, and among the seven "deacons" Stephen and Philip are particularly distinguished . Stephen evangelized with strength and energy, but his word met the most stubborn resistance. Finding no other way to make stop him , what do his opponents do? They choose the worst solution to annihilate a human being: that is, slander and perjury. And we know that slander always kills. This "diabolical cancer", which arises from the desire to destroy a person's reputation, also attacks the rest of the Church's body and severely damages it when, for petty interests or to cover up their own inadequacies, they join together as a group to smear the name of someone.

Led into the Sanhedrin and accused by false witnesses – they had done the same with Jesus and they will do the same with all martyrs through false witnesses and slander – Stephen proclaimed a re-reading of the sacred history that was centred in Christ, to defend himself. And there is a link that crosses all the history of the Jewish people from Abraham to Jesus. And it's a progression in faith that in Christ reached it's full maturation. The Easter of Jesus who died and rose is the key to the whole history of the covenant. In the face of this overabundance of the divine gift, Stephen courageously denounces the hypocrisy with which the prophets and Christ himself were treated. And remind them of history by saying, "Who of the prophets of your fathers you not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become"(Acts 7:52). He doesn't mince his words, but spoke clearly, he told the truth.

This provoked the violent reaction of those listening to him, and Stephen was condemned to death, condemned to stoning. However he showed his true being as a disciple of Christ. He didn't seek ways to escape, he didn't appeal to the people who could of saved him, but instead he put his life back in the Lord's hands, and Stephen's prayer is beautiful, at that moment: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59) – and he died as a son of God, forgiving: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them "(Acts 7:60).

These words of Stephen teach us that it is not the beautiful speeches that reveal our identity as children of God, but only the abandonment of one's life into the hands of the Father and forgiveness for those who offend us show us the quality of our faith. Stephen was the first martyr. The other Christ. That is the man whom the Holy Spirit made similar to Jesus. Free from fear, free from the fear of losing himself, but capable of witnessing the love of God right to the end.

Today there are more martyrs than at the beginning of the life of the Church, and martyrs are everywhere. The Church today is rich in martyrs, and is irrigated by their blood which is "the seed of new Christians" (Tertullian, Apologetic,50,13) and ensures the growth and fruitfulness of the People of God. Martyrs are not just holy, but men and women of flesh and blood who, as the Apocalypse says, "have washed their clothing, making them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7:14). They are the real winners.

Let us also ask the Lord that, looking at the martyrs of the past and present, we can learn to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and conformity to Christ.