By Jim Fair
Pope Francis admitted that the story of St. Stephen’s martyrdom might seem out of sync with the joy of the Christmas season – but it fits with the true spirit of the time.
The Holy Father’s comments came December 26, 2019, before he prayed the noonday audience with a crowd of some 25,000 pilgrims from around the world in St. Peter’s Square. He cited the texts from the 6th and 8th chapter of Acts that explain how Stephen died for the faith.
Stephen, filled with grace and power,
was working great wonders and signs among the people.
Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen,
Cyrenians, and Alexandrians,
and people from Cilicia and Asia,
came forward and debated with Stephen,
but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard this, they were infuriated,
and they ground their teeth at him.
But he, 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.”
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears,
and rushed upon him together.
They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him.
The witnesses laid down their cloaks
at the feet of a young man named Saul.
As they were stoning Stephen, he called out
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
“In the joyful atmosphere of Christmas, this memory of the first Christian killed for the faith may appear out of place,” the Pope said. “However, precisely in the perspective of faith, today’s celebration is in harmony with the true meaning of Christmas.
In Stephen’s martyrdom, in fact, violence is defeated by love, death by life: in the hour of supreme witness, he contemplates the open skies and gives the persecutors his forgiveness. This young servant of the Gospel, full of the Holy Spirit, was able to narrate Jesus with words, and above all with his life.”
The Pope went on to encourage those listening to keep their gaze fixed on Jesus, taking into account the hope he brings during the many challenges and trials of life. And he noted that St. Stephen can serve as a source of inspiration.
“He teaches us to proclaim Christ through gestures of fraternity and evangelical charity,” Francis said. “His testimony, culminating in martyrdom, is a source of inspiration for the renewal of our Christian communities. They are called to become more and more missionaries, all striving for evangelization, determined to reach men and women in the existential and geographical peripheries, where there is more thirst for hope and salvation. Communities that do not follow the worldly logic, that do not put themselves, their image at the center, but only the glory of God and the good of the people, especially the little ones and the poor.”
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