Skip to comments.Pope Benedict remembers persecuted Christians on the Feast of St. Stephen Martyr
Posted on 12/26/2006 3:16:44 PM PST by NYer
Vatican City, Dec. 26, 2006 (CNA) - Praying the Angelus December 26th on the Feast of St. Stephen Martyr, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the many Christians who are still suffering persecution in todays world and commended them to the care of Mary.
The Pontiff pointed out how the celebration of the Feast of the martyr St. Stephen on the day after Christmas, can surprise us, because it strikes the contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the drama of Stephen, stoned to death in Jerusalem in the first persecution against the newly born Church.
The Pope also noted that, St. Stephen was the first to follow the footsteps of Christ with martyrdom; dying like the Divine Teacher, forgiving and praying for his executioners (cf Acts 7,60).
Moreover, he explained that during the first four centuries of the Church, when all of the Saints were martyrs, their deaths were not instilled with fear or sadness, but with a spiritual enthusiasm which is always aroused in new Christians.
For believers, the day of death, and even more so the day of martyrdom, is not the end of everything, but the passing into immortal life, it is the day of their final birth, in Latin dies natalis.
We can understand then, the link which exists between the dies natalis of Christ and the dies natalis of St. Stephen. If Jesus was not born on earth, mankind would not be able to be born in heaven. Because Christ is born, we are able to be reborn! exclaimed the Holy Father.
In conclusion the Pontiff entrusted to Mary the many who are persecuted and suffering, in various ways, for their testimony and service to the Gospel.
Without mentioning them by name, the Holy Father made specific reference to Catholics in China, saying, with a special spiritual closeness, I think also of the Catholics who, maintain true fidelity to the Chair of Peter without surrendering or compromising in times of trial or great suffering.
The whole Church admires this example and prays that they have the strength to persevere, knowing that their tribulations are fonts of victory.
Feast Day: December 26, 2007
(d. 36 A.D.?)
All we know of Stephen is found in Acts of the Apostles, chapters six and seven. It is enough to tell us what kind of man he was:
At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenist (Greek-speaking) Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit.... (Acts 6:1-5)
Acts says that Stephen was a man filled with grace and power, who worked great wonders among the people. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him. He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin.
In his speech, Stephen recalled Gods guidance through Israels history, as well as Israels idolatry and disobedience. He then claimed that his persecutors were showing this same spirit. [Y]ou always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors (Acts 7:51b).
His speech brought anger from the crowd. 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 he said, Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.... They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him....As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit....Lord, do not hold this sin against them (Acts 7:55-56, 58a, 59, 60b).
Stephen died as Jesus did: falsely accused, brought to unjust condemnation because he spoke the truth fearlessly. He died with his eyes trustfully fixed on God, and with a prayer of forgiveness on his lips. A happy death is one that finds us in the same spirit, whether our dying is as quiet as Josephs or as violent as Stephens: dying with courage, total trust and forgiving love.
Saint Stephen, First Martyr
The Martyrdom of St Stephen
1603-04 - Oil on canvas
Musée du Louvre, Paris
St. Stephen was a deacon in the early Church and was the first Christian martyred for his faith. He was one of the seven deacons who helped the apostles (Acts 6:1-6) and was "filled with faith and with the Holy Spirit," and was "full of fortitude" (Acts 6:5,8). Stephen died praying for his executioners. The similarities between Stephen's martyrdom and the crucifixion of Our Lord emphasize his imitation of Christ even unto the complete gift of self. His name is included in the Roman Canon.
Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003
today we celebrate the entrance of St. Stephen
into eternal glory.
He died praying for those who killed him.
Help us to imitate his goodness
and to love our enemies.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
First Reading: Acts 6:8-10;7:54-59
And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God." But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 31:3cd-4, 6 and 8ab, 16bc and 17
R. Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Be thou a rock of refuge for me,
a strong fortress to save me!
Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress;
for thy name's sake lead me and guide me,
Into thy hand I commit my spirit;
thou hast redeemed me,
O LORD, faithful God.
I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love,
because thou hast seen my affliction,
My times are in thy hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors!
Let thy face shine on thy servant;
save me in thy steadfast love!
Gospel Reading: Matthew 10:17-22
Beware of men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you up, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
Related Link on the Vatican Website: