“My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials,” begins the second chapter of the Book of Sirach. Stephen’s last moments and martyrdom paint a beautiful and inspiring real-life example of Sirach’s advice to his son, and to all of us who aspire to serve the Lord. As the first martyr after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, Stephen didn’t really have an example to follow outside of Christ himself. What more do we need?
Sirach continues, “Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity”(Sir 2:2). Stephen kept preaching even when the crowds were getting angry at him. “Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Turn not away lest you fall” (Sir 2:3,5). What future could be greater than heaven, from which Stephen did not turn his gaze, and which he actually saw as he looked up and Jesus was standing at the Father’s right hand waiting to welcome him?
“Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient” (Sir. 2:4). Talk about crushing: Stephen is being STONED! And patience? Before that when he was condemned, Scripture tells us he has the face of an angel. “Trust God and he will help you; make straight your ways and hope in him” (Sir. 2:6). Stephen hadn’t seen anyone else martyred, but he believed Jesus was True God and True man and worthy of belief in the Resurrection.
What else can we learn from this wonderful saint who is our brother, to whom each of us is very dear? St. Fulgentius says, “Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle…. In his holy and tireless love he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition. Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven. Now Paul rejoices with Stephen” and delights in the glory of Christ, exults, reigns, and “feels no shame because of Stephen’s death.”
Saul was converted while still breathing murderous threats; Stephen had been praying for him even since the time of his stoning. Sometimes we may think of our enemies, for example, terrorists, those who are persecuting, killing, shooting missiles – they are like Saul, breathing murderous threats.
Frequently, our enemies are much closer to us, even within our own homes. Often, they are our enemies because we harbor hatred toward them. Let us ask, through the intercession of St. Stephen, for the grace of conversion, to be able to forgive ourselves and others and to believe in the power of love, which cannot be overcome by evil.
~ Written by Sister M. Regina