“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...” ~ Acts 7:53
These were the final words of the first martyr of our Church, Saint Stephen, whose Feast Day we celebrate today.
On the heels of yesterday’s celebration of the birth of our Savior, the King of Kings Jesus Christ, today we celebrate the triumphant journey and martyrdom of his soldier Stephen. Yesterday our king left the tabernacle of the virgin’s womb and lovingly visited the world. Today his soldier vacates the tabernacle of his body and proceeds triumphantly into heaven. Pope Francis tells us that “the Church sees in the sacrifice of the martyrs their ‘birth into heaven.‘“ Today therefore we celebrate the ‘birth’ of Stephen, which in its depth springs forth from the birth of Christ.
When Jesus, the word made flesh, entered this world he did not arrive empty-handed. Instead he imparted a great gift upon his soldiers that enriched them yes, but also made them unconquerable in battle. Love was his gift, and it was given freely to men so that they may share in his divinity.
And so it was this love that brought Christ from heaven to earth that also raised Stephen from earth to heaven. This shining light of love that Jesus possessed later shone forth in his soldier. Love was Stephen’s sole weapon by which he secured victory in every battle, including his last and most important one.
His love of God fortified him in the face of a hostile mob.
His love of neighbor compelled him to pray for those who were stoning him, saving them from eternal punishment, for as Jesus teaches us, “those sins you forgive are forgiven.” (John 20:23).
Galvanized by the sheer power of his love, he overcame Saul, a notorious Christian terrorist, no better than a modern day Taliban or ISIS Member, and made his persecutor on earth his companion in heaven. He sought to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by way of his substantial evangelical talent.
Paul now rejoices in heaven with Stephen. It is with Stephen that he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen that his soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord as Mary’s did in her Magnificat. Was Stephen praying for Paul during his lengthy imprisonment, persecution and execution in the latter stages of his life? You can be sure of it.
Love is the source of all good things. He who walks in love will never falter, for it is love that guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end. It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of his killers and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.
“Saint Stephen, pray for us that we too may one day glorify God the Farher, God the Son, and God rhe Holy Spirit in heaven. Obtain for us your passionate and intrepid faith, that we may consider all persons, things, and events in the light of Almighty God, so that we may one day be with you in paradise.” ~ Amen