St. Stephen - Protomartyr
(December 26 - St. Stephen, Protomartyr)
In Acts of the Apostles chapter 6, the Twelve Apostles gathered to pick seven deacons. Originally, this office was envisioned to ensure that no one was neglected in the daily distribution of the charitable offerings. One of the seven men chosen for the diaconate was Stephen, a “man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5a) After the apostles prayed over them, they laid hands upon them, and conferred the first level of the Sacrament of Holy Orders upon them.
Stephen is shown in Scripture as doing particularly great wonders and signs among the people. (cf. Acts 6:8) The elders and scribes captured him and brought him before the council. They convinced a few people to bear false witness against Stephen. In response, Stephen reviews the history of Israel, highlighting key moments and figures, including Abraham, Joseph, Moses, and King David. He emphasizes the pattern of rejection and persecution that God's messengers faced throughout history, culminating in the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Stephen accuses his audience of resisting the Holy Spirit, just as their ancestors had done. His proclamation was bold but truthful. He also stated forthrightly that this same council had betrayed and murdered Jesus, the Righteous One.
The council, understandably, were enraged and ground their teeth at him. Stephen is then given a vision by the Lord: “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) This made them all the more convinced that Stephen must die - they ran him out of town and then stoned him to death. St. Stephen’s last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit… Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:59-60) He became the protomartyr, the first martyr for our Lord.
There is nothing in this interaction to suggest that St. Stephen was upset or lost his temper. Even when he was being unjustly maligned, the Bible does not record any response until his sermon.
Today, on his feast day, let us ask St. Stephen for the grace to endure hardship and persecution for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. May the Lord grant us courage to embrace any cross that comes our way. And we participate more intentionally and actively with the gift of divine Faith. Amen.
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