First Reading: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Psalm: Psalm 31:3-4, 6, 8, 17
Gospel: Matthew 10:17-22
Just one day after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen,
the first Christian martyr. Greek-speaking Jews who were enraged by
his preaching about Jesus Christ stoned Stephen to death outside
Jerusalem. Like Jesus and the prophets before him who threatened
the religious establishment, Stephen was persecuted and martyred.
Stephen was one of seven deacons assigned by Peter and James to take
care of the foreign converts who were joining the Jerusalem Church
in large numbers. The apostles could not preach and at the same
time attend to the care of widows and orphans, especially those who
did not speak Hebrew. Deacons were instituted to assist the
apostles in the ministry of service. Stephen performed this service
well, but was also a good preacher. He was “filled with grace and
power,” as Acts tells us.
Stephen’s martyrdom, celebrated so close to Christmas, reminds us
about something that is easy to miss amidst all the Christmas
festivities—that the birth of Jesus cannot be separated from his
eventual death on the cross. Following Jesus by serving others and
witnessing to him can have a heavy price.
As he was being stoned, Stephen said in invocation, “Lord Jesus,
receive my spirit; Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Stephen died like his Master, and like him we are invited to the
perfect imitation of Christ.
“Lord Jesus, your coming in the flesh to ransom us from slavery to
sin gives us cause for great rejoicing even in the midst of trials
and pain. Help me to patiently and joyfully accept the hardships,
adversities, and persecution, which come my way in serving you.
Strengthen my faith and give me courage that I may not shrink back
from doing your will”.