Painting: Giacinto Gimignani, The Stoning of St Stephen
Act of Apostles 6:8-10; 7:54-59
Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.
Today is the feast of Saint Stephen. Stephen literally means crown. Saint Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Christian Church. He is also known as the “Protomartyr” because he was the first disciple of Christ to pour out his blood for Christ. Stephen was stoned to death because of false accusations similar to those leveled at Jesus himself and, like the Master, he died forgiving those who killed him. Stephen is the patron saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons. He is often represented carrying a pile of rocks or with rocks on his head.
Today – in the feast of St. Stephen- the Christian especially to those who wear name Stephen is confirmed and is strengthened by his witness of faith. This confirmation is really a supplement for all Christian to have the courage to testify faith. Now the faith of Christian is really examined by many ideologies. It stands up in the middle of ideologies which are so lure to be followed. This is the chance for the Christian to bear the witness of the faith as Stephen did in front of the Sanhedrin.
The witness of the faith is a price and a consequence of being Christian; of being Jesus’ follower. It had been said by Jesus when he sent the twelve apostles: “On my account, you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles”
Now the kings are ideologies that refuse God. Why the ideologies are said as the king? These ideologies have seated in the heart of many people and have become a ruler like the king in their life. The ideologies really permeate and conduct the life of many persons. Therefore the ideologies laugh and despise the Christian faith. This is a great challenge for Christians to bear witness of faith.
When the time comes to give the witness, we remember what Jesus had said to the apostles: Don’t be worry how and what you should say because all will be bestowed on you at that time because it isn’t you who say but the spirit of your father”. It means that God himself will testify and will work through us. We are only His instrument and His device to proclaim His glory.
Of course, the witness bore by God cannot be argued by men. The witness of God through us dismantles and defeats any logic of the ideologies. The work of God leads men to the truth. There is a time that the truth is bitter and painful; the truth is not easy to be heard and accepted; when the truth dismantles the error and shows itself. This happens to the members of Sanhedrin. They closed their ears and were angry about the truth brought by Stephen. The consequence was that Stephen was thrown by stones until dead. The truth is always rejected and in the name of Jesus, we are hated. But when we are hated because of the witness of the truth and of Jesus and we are still loyal with our witness then the consequent we gain the crown of martyrdom. Said Pope John Paul II: The Church calls the day of martyrdom a dies natalis (birthday). Indeed, by virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, the death of the martyr is a birth in Heaven. This is why it is so meaningful to celebrate the First Martyr the day after Christmas: Jesus who was born in Bethlehem gave his life for us so that we too, reborn “from on high” through faith and Baptism, might be willing to give up our own lives for love of our brothers and sisters
Stephen is called a martyr because he forgave the men who stoned him. His martyrdom was his forgiveness. He broke the chain of revenge by forgiveness. Stephen was able to forgive because he fixed his gaze on Jesus, he stared at heaven which is made of love. His martyrdom that was his forgiveness had caused Saul to repent then Saul would become St. Paul. Violence is defeated by love, the death by life (Pope Francis)
The crown of martyrdom makes the gate of heaven opened and makes us seeing Jesus Christ. Stephen was the first man seeing Jesus and the gate of heaven was opened to him. Then he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
When the gate of heaven is opened and Jesus stands on the right hand of God, it means that Jesus welcomes us to His kingdom. The martyrdom is the key to open the gate of heaven and to see Jesus in the sky. The crown of martyrdom is bestowed on those who bear witness of faith. The crown of martyrdom is made from blood. But this blood will be the glory of faith and truth. This blood will change the crown of martyrdom to become the crown of glory. Why? The reason is like stated in the first antiphon: my soul clings to you because my body has been tortured for you, Oh my God. And finally, we are crowned with the crown of glory made of spirit and glee. The quote from St. Fulgentius:
“The carrying love of Christ from heaven to the world has delivered Stephen from the world to heaven… Christ has made love as the ladder which is able for all the Christians to climb to heaven. Therefore, hold it firmly with sincere heart, let you share the reality of your love, and with your advance in love, climb together”.