The First Martyr

Readings for Tuesday May 10, 2011

First Reading: Acts 7:51-8:1
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 31
Gospel: John 6:30-35

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. (Acts 7:51-60)

I have always been in awe of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Church. First of all, his bold words against the scribes and pharisees were certainly bold enough, but what is even more amazing is the courageous witness that he gives at the end of his life. While we do not read much of Stephen in the bible, what little we do read is certainly powerful enough. Stephen was clearly a man who loved God with all his heart, and because he loved God so much, he was able to love others ... even those who wanted to take his life.

Stephen shows us what it means to follow the Lord until the very end. His martyrdom is a powerful challenge to each one of us. Are we willing to follow Christ in all that we do? Are we willing to speak boldly to those who do not believe in Him? Are we willing to look to Jesus and trust in Him even when the world is persecuting us? Are we able to forgive those who intentionally hurt us and cause us pain? Stephen shows us that if we are willing to model our lives after Christ that there is a great reward waiting for us in heaven.

Living the Christian life is never easy, but it is worth it.

Saint Stephen, pray for us!

Father above, we thank you and praise you for the gift of this day. Lord, thank you for all that you have blessed us with, and thank you for all that you do. Lord, you alone are the source of life and all goodness, help us never to be distracted by anything other than you. Lord, this life is not always easy, but let us never take the easy path, for that does not lead to you. Let us always choose your path, which is hard, but is worth it. Help us persevere to the very end, like your servant Stephen. We ask this all through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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