“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” ~ Epictetus
We celebrated great joy yesterday on the birthday of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Today, we turn our thoughts to the beginning of the early Church and its first martyr, St. Stephen. Stephen was one of the first deacons in the Church. The deacons were selected to help the Apostles in caring for the community, particularly at the Eucharist.
The beginning of the Church was a tumultuous time. Christianity was illegal and anyone who professed the name of Jesus could be arrested, tortured, and killed. During this time, there were some who gave up the practice of the faith so that they could save their lives. There were others, like Stephen, who proclaimed the Good News not only willingly but boldly.
Stephen was a man filled with the Holy Spirit. He was known far and wide not only for his words but also for his works. He performed great and mighty deeds through the power of the Holy Spirit. That made him both loved by the Christian community and hated by those who opposed the faith.
One day, Stephen was preaching about the Lord. There were people listening avidly and people who were jeering him. Looking up, he exclaimed, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Many of the onlookers covered their ears (lest they hear the “blasphemy” that he was proclaiming) and rushed him. They grabbed him, dragged him out of the city, and stoned him to death.
This was not an isolated event nor was it a random one. It was orchestrated by a man named Saul who was searching for Christians so that he could have them destroyed. He truly believed that Christianity was an abomination and wanted to bring it to an end. Later, he would come to realize that Stephen and many others whom he had put to death were speaking the truth. He would become a changed man and, as the Apostle Paul, would go into the world to proclaim the Good News just as boldly as the people he had killed.
We may be in the midst of the Christmas celebration; but, we must remember what that celebration was all about. Jesus came into our world to bring the Good News and to challenge us to proclaim the Good News. May we have the courage of the martyrs so that our witness to the world inspires others to embrace the Lord.
FAITH ACTION: Ask God to give you the grace that you need to speak His words today and not your own so that His message may be proclaimed in the world.