In the Gospel reading Jesus warns his followers that his followers would be persecuted because of their fidelity to Jesus. Throughout its long history men and women have given their lives in witness to their love for Christ and his Church.
One of the first seven deacons in the Church to help in the distribution of food and assistance to widows and the poor, St. Stephen was the first Martyr of the Church. His martyrdom is given in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Saul, the future St. Paul and Apostle to the Gentiles, was a witness at Stephen’s martyrdom.
Like the Lord Jesus, Stephen died outside the city, stoned to death for what his tormentors considered blasphemy. Like Christ, at his death, he commends his spirit to God and forgives his tormentors, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
At the Mass, the Church prays, “Grant, Lord, we pray, that we may imitate what we worship, and so learn to love even our enemies, for the heavenly birthday of a man who knew how to pray even for his persecutors.”