By Mel Mantanona
The Church proudly proclaims and honors the many heroic, brave martyrs who have given up their lives for our faith. Though our catalog of these courageous souls is nothing in comparison to the actual numbers of those who lost their lives, we delightfully celebrate their gallantry in any way we can.
The first recorded martyr is St. Stephen. Stephen, being one of seven deacons ordained, he was the oldest and given the superior title of “archdeacon” among the seven. Though not much is known about him, we know that he was Jewish. He gained popularity for his preaching and many miracles were attributed to him. He spoke of how Jesus came to not to destroy the law of Moses but to fulfill it. He taught on the history of Israel and primarily quoted Scriptures for the foundation of his arguments.
However, he gained enemies who debated adamantly against him and they even fabricated evidence to persecute him for blasphemy. False witnesses came forward to unjustly testify against him and after defending himself in court, he saw a vision of Jesus at the right hand of God and Stephen said, “Look, I can see heaven thrown open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” After this account, he was wrongly charged on the accounts of preaching against Mosaic law and for predicating that Jesus would destroy the temple.
He was killed by being brutally stoned and his last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” One of the cruel witnesses of his death dramatically converted after encountering the Lord Jesus and went on to becoming a great apostle to the Gentiles.
St. Stephen was a fervent follower of Christ and his actions have led to the conversion of many people. He is the patron of deacons, altar servers, bricklayers, casket makers, and stonemasons. His feast day is Dec. 26.
Prayer for the intercessio
of St. Stephen:
Lord Jesus, you chose Stephen as the first deacon and martyr of your One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The heroic witness of his holy life and death reveals your continued presence among us. Through following the example of his living faith, and by his intercession, empower us by your Holy Spirit to live as witnesses to the faith in this new missionary age. No matter what our state in life, career or vocation, help us to proclaim, in both word and in deed, the fullness of the Gospel to a world which is waiting to be born anew in Jesus Christ. Pour out upon your whole church, the same Holy Spirit which animated St Stephen, Martyr, to be faithful to the end, which is a beginning of life eternal in the communion of the Trinity.
Information and photo from Franciscan Media and Catholic.org