Feast of St. Stephen, martyr

St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, knew the pain of suffering a cruel death by stoning. He was young and healthy, so the job didn’t get done with the first few rocks. I wonder who was responsible for choosing St. Stephen as the patron saint for brick layers and those who suffer migraine headaches!  

Like St. Stephen in his times, many Christians today live among unbelievers who are very hostile to Christianity and its values.  In Nigeria a few years ago, thirty-nine Christians were murdered after celebrating Christmas Mass. They were killed on the steps of St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. It’s tempting to hate terrorists for such atrocities, like those we see in Gaza today. We don’t have the power to stop all these horrible acts of terrorism. But we can show more love to those around us, to our unbelieving relatives, friends and neighbors especially when they hurt us. 

St. Stephen knew the pain of martyrdom and prayed for his persecutors, but he also knew the happiness of dying for Christ.  “Look,” he exclaimed, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56).  Jesus had said, “…you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God.”  But at Stephen’s martyrdom Jesus isn’t sitting, he stands up, as if to encourage his disciple and cheer him on like a runner in a race.  We fear the pain of dying, but saints teach us about the happiness of dying with love of Christ in our hearts.

In Book Three of St. Gertrude the Great’s Revelations, she records a promise of Christ concerning the moment of death.  Christ says, “When I behold anyone in agony who has thought of me with pleasure, or performed any works deserving reward, I appear at the moment of death with a countenance so full of love and mercy that one repents from the inmost heart for ever offending me, and is saved by this repentance.” We may not be saints yet, but we become saints when we die with love for Christ in our hearts.