Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”
But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
Only once or twice in my Jesuit formation so far have I personally felt the Enemy actively and urgently at work. In my ministry at juvenile hall, where teenage boys await sentencing, I often sense a dark fist tightening on the hearts and minds of those young men: fueling their guilt, feeding their anger and tearing away at the truth that God loves us all without condition. Convincing the incarcerated that they are greater than their worst deeds isn’t easy, but that challenge never stopped Christ from emphatic calls not to overlook care for prisoners.
Something to remember as we honor St. Stephen today are the actions for which Paul was responsible before starting his own ministry. While we don’t know if Paul heaved a rock at the Church’s first martyr himself, we do know that this great persecutor of early Christians went on to experience a ferocious change of heart that led him to become a leader in our faith history.
We are better than our worst actions. The trust we place in the boundless grace and mercy of God opens the door to forgiveness, healing, profound change and the Christmas light of Christ.
—Joe Kraemer, SJ, is a scholastic of the West Province currently in Regency in the Advancement Office at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in Los Gatos, California.
Come to my assistance my Lord and my God, that I may do for You all that you ask. Strengthen me in adversity and do not let me succumb to my feelings of worthlessness.
Come live within me, that I may die to myself so You may fill my very being. Let me serve others as You would serve them, that in doing so I may serve You. Do not let me fail, oh Lord, or lead your people astray.
Call me to live in your presence today, that tomorrow I may die in Your hands. May You raise me one day that I may touch your face and live in Your glory.
—Adapted excerpt from a prayer to mark the Feast of St. Stephen, first deacon and martyr, by Deacon Lazaro J. Ulloa.