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St. Stephen – The First Christian Martyr

Today, in a stark contrast to yesterday’s joyful celebration of The Lord’s birth, the Church commemorates the martyrdom of St. Stephen. The story of his murder can be found in Chapter 7 of the Acts of the Apostles and bears many similarities to the death of Jesus. His violent death serves to remind us of Our Lord’s chilling words, “If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, ‘No slave is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours” (Jn 15:18-20).

While most of us will not be called to face actual martyrdom or physical danger for being Christians, we may encounter a more subtle form of persecution. It is generally experienced when we begin to proclaim the teachings of our faith, especially when they are not popular. As St. Stephen quickly discovered, people do not take kindly to the call to reform their lives. Their response can grow especially angry if they are enjoying their sinful ways. In the United States, many people react angrily when told that it is morally wrong to vote for political candidates who support abortion on demand and gay “marriage”. We may experience the same reaction if we try to convince a family member or coworker that artificial birth control or embryonic stem cell research is immoral. This is generally due to the fact that many teachings of the Catholic Church are inconvenient and force us to move away from being selfish. Our fallen human nature makes this difficult at times. It is much more pleasurable to serve ourselves and do what “feels good”. However, that is not the basis of Christianity.

As we remember the martyrdom of St. Stephen, today would be a good day to look at our own lives. Do we experience physical or verbal persecution because of our Catholic Faith? If not, maybe we aren’t doing enough to stand up for our Faith. Through the intercession of St. Stephen, let us pray for an increase in the courage needed to boldly proclaim the teachings of the Catholic Church…even when it’s unpopular.

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