St Stephen


Pope Francis   26.12.13  Angelus, St Peter's Square   Feast of St Stephen  Year A    Acts 6: 8-10,         Acts 7: 54-59,         Matthew 10: 17-22

Pope Francis Angelus St Stephen 26.12.13

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning.

You aren’t afraid of the rain, you are very good!

The liturgy extends the Solemnity of Christmas for eight days: a time of joy for the entire People of God! And on this second day of the octave, the Feast of St Stephen, the first martyr of the Church, is inserted into the joy of Christmas. The book of the Acts of the Apostles presents him to us as “a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (6:5), chosen with six others for the service of widows and the poor in the first Community of Jerusalem. And it tells us about his martyrdom, when after a fiery dispute that aroused the anger of the members of the Sanhedrin, he was dragged outside the city walls and stoned. Stephen dies like Jesus, asking pardon for those who killed him (7:55-60).

In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this commemoration may seem out of place. For Christmas is the celebration of life and it fills us with sentiments of serenity and peace. Why disturb the charm with the memory of such atrocious violence? In reality, from the perspective of faith, the Feast of St Stephen is in full harmony with the deeper meaning of Christmas. In martyrdom, in fact, violence is conquered by love, death by life. The Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their “birth into heaven”. Therefore, today we celebrate the “birth” of Stephen, which in its depths springs from the Birth of Christ. Jesus transforms the death of those who love him into a dawn of new life!

In the martyrdom of Stephen the same confrontation between good and evil, between hatred and forgiveness, between meekness and violence, which culminated in the Cross of Christ. Thus, the remembrance of the first martyr immediately dispels a false image of Christmas: the fairy-tale, sugar-coated image, which is not in the Gospel! The liturgy brings us back to the authentic meaning of the Incarnation, by linking Bethlehem to Calvary and by reminding us that the divine salvation involved the battle against sin, it passes through the narrow door of the Cross. This is the path which Jesus clearly indicated to his disciples, as today’s Gospel attests: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22).

Therefore today we pray especially for the Christians who are discriminated against on account of the witness they bear to Christ and to the Gospel. Let us remain close to these brothers and sisters who, like St Stephen, are unjustly accused and made the objects of various kinds of violence. Unfortunately, I am sure they are more numerous today than in the early days of the Church. There are so many! This occurs especially where religious freedom is still not guaranteed or fully realized. However, it also happens in countries and areas where on paper freedom and human rights are protected, but where in fact believers, and especially Christians, face restrictions and discrimination. I would like to ask you to take a moment in silence to pray for these brothers and sisters [...] and let us entrust them to Our Lady (Hail Mary...). This comes as no surprise to a Christian, for Jesus foretold it as a propitious occasion to bear witness. Still, on a civil level, injustice must be denounced and eliminated.

May Mary Queen of Martyrs help us to live Christmas with the ardour of faith and love which shone forth in St Stephen and in all of the martyrs of the Church.




Pope Francis       26.12.14  Angelis St Peter's Square         Feast of St Stephen Year B       Matthew 10: 17-22


Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning,

Today the Liturgy recalls the witness of St Stephen, who, chosen by the Apostles, along with six others, to carry out the deaconry of charity, that is, to attend to the poor, the orphans, the widows in the community of Jerusalem, became the first martyr of the Church. Stephen, through his martyrdom, honours the coming of the King of Kings into the world, he bears witness to Him and offers up his very life, as he did in his service to the most needy. And he thereby shows us how to live the mystery of Christmas in its fullness.

The Gospel on this feast day recounts part of Jesus’ discourse to his disciples at the time that He sends them on mission. He says, among other things: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 10:22). These words of the Lord do not disturb the celebration of Christmas, but remove that artificial sugary coating which does not appertain to it. They enable us to understand that in the the trials accepted as the result of faith, violence is conquered by love, death by life. And to truly welcome Jesus into our life and to prolong the joy of the Holy Night, the path is the very one indicated by this Gospel, that is, to bear witness to Jesus in humility, in silent service, without fear of going against the current and of paying in the first person. And if not all are called, like St Stephen, to shed their blood, each Christian is, however, asked to be consistent in every circumstance with the faith that he or she professes. And Christian consistency is a grace that we must ask of the Lord. To be consistent, to live as Christians and not to say: “I am a Christian”, but live as a pagan. Consistency is a grace we must ask for today.

Following the Gospel is certainly a demanding but beautiful, very beautiful journey, and those who follow it with faithfulness and courage receive the reward promised by the Lord to men and women of good will. As the angels sang on Christmas Day: “Peace! Peace!”. This peace granted by God is capable of calming the conscience of those who, through the trials of life, are able to receive the Word of God and commit themselves to observing it with perseverance to the end (cf. Mt 10:22).

Today, brothers and sisters, let us pray in a special way for those who are discriminated against, persecuted and killed for bearing witness to Christ. I would like to say to each one of them: if you bear this cross with love, you have entered into the mystery of Christmas, you are in the heart of Christ and of the Church.

Further, let us pray, also because of the sacrifice of these martyrs of today — there are so many, so very many! — that the commitment to recognize and concretely ensure religious freedom be strengthened, as this freedom is an inalienable right of every human being.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hope that you spend the Christmas season peacefully. May St Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr, sustain us on our daily journey, which we hope to crown, in the end, with the joyous assembly of Saints in Paradise.





Pope Francis   26.12.16  Angelus, St Peter's Square   Feast of St Stephen  Year A    Acts 6: 8-10,         Acts 7: 54-59,         Matthew 10: 17-22

Pope Francis  Angelus about St Stephen 26.12.16

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

The joy of Christmas fills our hearts today too, as the liturgy involves us in celebrating the martyrdom of Saint Stephen, the First Martyr, inviting us to reflect on the witness that he gave us with his sacrifice. It is precisely the glorious witness of Christian martyrdom, suffered for love of Christ; the martyrdom which continues to be present in the history of the Church, from Stephen up to our time.

Today’s Gospel (cf. Mt 10:17-22) told us of this witness. Jesus forewarns the disciples of the rejection and persecution they will encounter: “you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (v. 22). But why does the world persecute Christians? The world hates Christians for the same reason that they hated Jesus: because he brought the light of God, and the world prefers darkness so as to hide its evil works. Let us recall that Jesus himself, at the Last Supper, prayed that the Father might protect us from the wicked worldly spirit. There is opposition between the Gospel and this worldly mentality. Following Jesus means following his light, which was kindled in the night of Bethlehem, and abandoning worldly obscurity.

The Protomartyr Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, was stoned because he professed his faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The Only Begotten Son who comes into the world invites every believer to choose the way of light and life. This is the meaning of his coming among us. Loving the Lord and obeying his voice, the Deacon Stephen chose Christ, Life and Light for all mankind. By choosing truth, he became at the same time a victim of the inexplicable iniquity present in the world. But in Christ, Stephen triumphed!

Today too, in order to bear witness to light and to truth, the Church experiences, in different places, harsh persecution, up to the supreme sacrifice of martyrdom. How many of our brothers and sisters in faith endure abuse and violence, and are hated because of Jesus! I shall tell you something: today’s martyrs are more numerous with respect to those of the first centuries. When we read the history of the first centuries, here in Rome, we read of so much cruelty toward Christians; I tell you: there is the same cruelty today, and to a greater extent, toward Christians. Today we should think of those who are suffering from persecution, and to be close to them with our affection, our prayers and also our tears. Yesterday, Christmas Day, Christians persecuted in Iraq celebrated Christmas in their destroyed cathedral: it is an example of faithfulness to the Gospel. In spite of the trials and dangers, they courageously witness their belonging to Christ and live the Gospel by committing themselves in favour of the least, of the most neglected, doing good to all without distinction; in this way they witness to charity in truth.

In making room in our heart for the Son of God who gives himself to us at Christmas, let us joyfully and courageously renew the will to follow him faithfully, as the only guide, by continuing to live according to the Gospel attitude and rejecting the mentality of those who dominate this world.

Let us raise our prayers to the Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Queen of Martyrs, that she may guide us and always sustain us on our journey in following Jesus Christ, whom we contemplate in the grotto of the Nativity and who is the faithful Witness of God the Father.




Pope Francis           26.12.17  Angelus St Peter's Square          Feast of St Stephen Year B           Acts 6: 8-14 7: 54-60


Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good Morning!
Pope Francis  Angelus  26.12.17


After celebrating Jesus’s birth, today we celebrate the heavenly birth of Saint Stephen, the first martyr. Even if at first sight, it may seem that there is no connection between the two events, in reality there is, and it is a very strong one.

Yesterday, in the liturgy of Christmas, we heard proclaimed: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Saint Stephen distressed the leaders of his people because, “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), he firmly believed and professed the new presence of God among the people. He knew that the real temple of God was now Jesus, the eternal Word who came to dwell among us, having made himself like us in every way except in sin. But Stephen is accused of preaching the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. The accusation they make against him is that of declaring that “this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14).

In effect, Jesus’ message is troubling and it disturbs us because it challenges worldly religious power and stirs consciences. After his coming, it is necessary for us to convert, to change our mentality, to stop thinking like before; to change and to convert. Stephen clung to Jesus’ message until death. His last prayers were: “Lord Jesus receive my spirit” and “Lord do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59, 60). These two prayers faithfully echo those uttered by Jesus on the Cross: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46) and “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (v. 34). Those words of Stephen were only possible because the Son of God came to earth, died and rose for us. Before these events, these expressions were humanly inconceivable.

Stephen implores Jesus to receive his spirit. The Risen Christ, in fact, is the Lord and is the only mediator between God and mankind, not only at the hour of our death, but also in every instant of life. Apart from him, we can do nothing (cf. Jn 15:5). Thus, before the Baby Jesus in the Nativity scene, we too can pray to him in this way: “Lord Jesus to you we entrust our spirit, receive it” so that our life may truly be a good life according to the Gospel.

Jesus is our mediator and he reconciles us, not only with the Father, but also among ourselves. He is the source of love who opens us to communion with our brothers and sisters, to love each other, removing all conflict and resentment. We know that resentment is bad; it causes a lot of pain and does us great harm! And Jesus removes all this and enables us to love one another. This is the miracle of Jesus. Let us ask Jesus, born for us, to help us adopt this twofold attitude of trust in the Father and love of neighbour. It is an attitude which transforms life and renders it more beautiful, more fruitful.

To Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and Queen of Martyrs, let us lift our prayer with confidence, that she may help us to welcome Jesus as Lord of our lives and to become brave witnesses, ready to pay in person the price of our loyalty to the Gospel.





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.



Pope Francis  26.12.19  Angelus, St Peter's Square     Feast of St Stephen  Year A      Acts 6: 8-10,    Acts 7: 54-59,   Matthew 10: 17-22

Pope Francis Feast of St Stephen 26.12.19

Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!

The feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, is celebrated today. The Book of Acts of the Apostles tells us about him (see Chapter 6-7) and on the page of today's liturgy presents him in the final moments of his life, when he is captured and stoned (cf. 6:12; 7:54-60). In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this memory of the first Christian killed for faith may seem out of place. However, precisely from the perspective of faith, today's celebration stands in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas. In Stephen's martyrdom, in fact, violence is defeated by love, death by life: he, in the hour of supreme witness, contemplates the heavens open and offers pardon to his persecutors (cf. v. 60).

This young servant of the Gospel, full of the Holy Spirit, was able to speak about Jesus with words, and especially with his life. Looking at him, we see Jesus' promise to his disciples come true: "When they mistreat you because of me, the Spirit of the Father will give you the strength and the words to bear witness" (cf. Mt 10:19-20). At the school of St. Stephen, who became like his Master in both life and death, we also fix our gaze on Jesus, the Father's faithful witness. We learn that the glory of Heaven, the glory that lasts for eternal life, is not made up of riches and power, but of love and self-giving.

We need to keep our gaze fixed on Jesus, the "author and perfecter of our faith"(Heb 12:2), in order to give the reasons for the hope that has been given to us (cf. 1 Pet 3:15), through the challenges and trials we face on a daily basis. For us Christians, Heaven is no longer far away, separated from earth: in Jesus, Heaven has descended to earth. And thanks to Him, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we can take on all that is human and direct it towards Heaven. So it is precisely our way of being human that is our first manner of bearing witness, a lifestyle shaped after Jesus: meek and courageous, humble and noble, non-violent and strong.

Stephen was a deacon, one of the first seven deacons of the Church (cf. Acts 6:1-6). He teaches us to proclaim Christ through acts of fraternity and evangelical charity. His witness, culminating in martyrdom, is a source of inspiration for the renewal of our Christian communities. They are called to become more and more missionary, all of them aimed at evangelization, determined to reach men and women in the existential and geographical peripheries, where there is more thirst for hope and salvation. Communities that do not follow worldly logic, which do not focus on their own image, but only the glory of God and the good of others, especially the weakest and the poor.

The feast of this first martyr Stephen calls us to remember all the martyrs of yesterday and today, - today there are many! - to feel united in communion with them, and to ask them for the grace to live and die with the name of Jesus in our hearts and lips. May Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, help us to live this Christmas season with our gaze fixed on Jesus, to become more like Him every day.





Pope Francis   28.04.20 Holy Mass Casa Santa Marta (Domus Sanctae Marthae)    Tuesday of the Third Week of Easter   Acts 7: 51 - 8: 1

Pope Francis Santa Marta 28.04.20

In this time when we begin to have provisions to exit quarantine, let us pray to the Lord to give his people, to all of us, the grace of prudence and obedience to the provisions, so that the pandemic does not return.

In the first Reading of these days we listened to Stephen's martyrdom: it's a simple thing, that happened. The doctors of the Law did not tolerate the clarity of the doctrine, and as it came out they went to ask someone to say that they had heard that Stephen blaspheme against God, against the Law. And after that, they attacked him and stoned him: simple as that. It is a structure of action that is not the first: they did the same with Jesus . They tried to convince the people who were there that he was a blasphemer and they shouted: "Crucify him." This is acting like beasts. Acting like beasts, starting with false testimonies to arrive at injustice. That's the pattern. Even in the Bible there are cases like this: they did the same to Susanna , they did the same to Naboth, then Aman tried to do the same with the people of God. False news, slander that ignites the people who then demand justice. It's a lynching, a real lynching.

And so, they bring it to the judge, for the judge to give legal formality to this: but he has already been judged, the judge must be very, very brave to go against such a popular judgment, done on purpose, prepared. This is the case of Pilate: Pilate clearly saw that Jesus was innocent, but he saw the people, he washed his hands of it. It's a way of doing law. Even today we see it: it takes place even today, in some countries, when they want to make a coup or take out some politician so that he does not go to the elections or whatever, this is done: false news, slander, then they rely on a judge that is to their liking to create law in these types of situations that lead to a condemnation. It's a social lynching. And this is what was done with Stephen, that's how Stephen's judgment was made: brought to be judged, someone who had already been judged by the deceived people.

This also happens with today's martyrs: that judges have no chance of doing justice because they come already judged. Let us think of Asia Bibi, for example, that we have seen: ten years in prison because she had been judged by slander and a people who wanted her death. In the face of this avalanche of false news that creates opinion, so often nothing can be done: nothing can be done.

I think a lot about this, the Holocaust. The Holocaust is such an example: an opinion was created against a people and then it was normal: "Yes, yes: they must be killed, they must be killed". This is a way to proceed to get rid of people who are bothering you, disturbing you.

We all know that this is not good, but what we do not know is that there is a small daily lynching that tries to condemn people, to create a bad reputation for people, to discard them, to condemn them: the little daily lynching of gossip that creates an opinion. And so often we hear someone say: "But no, this person is a good person!" – "No , no: it is said that ...", and with that "it is said that" you create an opinion to take down a person.
 
Truth is something else: truth is the testimony of the truth, of the things that a person believes; the truth is clear, it is transparent. Truth does not tolerate oppression. Let us look at Stephen, a martyr: the first martyr after Jesus. The first martyr. Let us think of the apostles: they have all given witness. And let us think of so many martyrs who – even the one of today, St. Peter Chanel – it was the chatter that created the opinion that he was against the king ... a reputation is created, and he must be killed.
 
And let us think about ourselves, of our language: so often we, with our comments, begin such a lynching. And in our Christian institutions, we have seen so many daily lynchings that were born from gossip.

May the Lord help us to be just in our judgments, not to begin or follow this mass condemnation that is provoked by gossip.






Pope Francis         26.12.20  Angelus, Library of the Apostolic Palace         Feast of St Stephen Year B          Acts 6: 8-10 7: 54-60


Dear brothers and sisters, good afternoon!
Pope Francis  Feast of St Stephen  Angelus  26.12.2020


Yesterday’s Gospel spoke of Jesus, the “true light” that came into the world, the light that “shines in the darkness” and “the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn 1:9, 5). Today we see the person who witnessed to Jesus, Saint Stephen, who shines in the darkness. Those who witness to Jesus shine with His light, not with their own light. Even the Church does not have its own light. Because of this, the ancient fathers called the Church: “the mystery of the moon”. Like the moon, which does not have its own light, these witnesses do not have their own light, they are capable of taking Jesus’s light and reflecting it. Stephen was falsely accused and brutally stoned, but in the darkness of hatred (which was the torment of his stoning), he allowed the light of Jesus to shine: he prayed for his murderers and forgave them, like Jesus on the cross. He is the first martyr, that is, the first witness, the first of a host of brothers and sisters who, even until today, continue to bring the light into the darkness – people who respond to evil with good, who do not succumb to violence and lies, but break the cycle of hatred with meekness and love. In the world’s nights, these witnesses bring God’s dawn.

But how do they become witnesses? Imitating Jesus, taking light from Jesus. This is the path for every Christian: to imitate Jesus, taking light from Jesus. Saint Stephen gives us the example: Jesus had come to serve, not to be served (see Mk 10:45), and he lived to serve and not to be served, and he came to serve: Stephen was chosen to be a deacon, he became a deacon, that is, a servant, and assisted the poor at table (see Acts 6:2). He tried to imitate the Lord every day and he did it even to the end: like Jesus, he was captured, condemned and killed outside of the city, and like Jesus he prayed and forgave. While he was being stoned, he said: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (7:60). Stephen was a witness because he imitated Jesus.

A question could arise: are these witnesses to goodness really necessary when the world is immersed in wickedness? What good does it do to pray and forgive? Just to give a good example? But, what does that serve? No, there’s a lot more. We discover this from a detail. The text says that among those for whom Stephen prayed and whom he forgave there was “a young man named Saul” (v. 58), who “was consenting to his death” (8:1). A little later, by God’s grace, Saul was converted, received Jesus’s light, accepted it, was converted, and became Paul, the greatest missionary in history. Paul was born by God’s grace, but through Stephen’s forgiveness, through Stephen’s witness. That was the seed of his conversion. This is the proof that loving actions change history: even the ones that are small, hidden, everyday. For God guides history through the humble courage of those who pray, love and forgive. There are so many hidden saints, saints who are next-door, hidden witnesses of life, who with little acts of love change history.

To be witnesses to Jesus – this is true for us as well. The Lord wants us to make our lives masterpieces through the ordinary things, the everyday things we do. We are called to bear witness to Jesus right where we live, in our families, at work, everywhere, even just by giving the light of a smile, a light that is not our own – it comes from Jesus – and even just by fleeing the shadow of gossip and tattle-taling. And then, when we see something that is wrong, instead of criticizing, badmouthing and complaining, let us pray for the one who made a mistake and for the difficult situation. And when an argument starts at home, instead of trying to win it, let us try to diffuse it; and start over again each time, forgiving the one who offended. Small things, but they change history, because they open the door, they open the window to Jesus’s light. Saint Stephen, while he was on the receiving end of the stones of hatred, reciprocated with words of forgiveness. He thus changed history. We too can change evil into good each time just as a beautiful proverb proposes which says: “Be like the palm tree: they throw stones at it and it drops down dates”.

Today, let us pray for those suffering persecution because of the name of Jesus. They are many unfortunately. There are more than in the beginning of the Church. Let us entrust these brothers and sisters to the Madonna, that they might respond with meekness to oppression and that, as true witnesses to Jesus, they might conquer evil with good.