Today is St. Stephen’s feast day.
St. Stephen is an important figure in the Early Church. He was the first to shed blood for the faith, or be a martyr. St. Stephen was the first or one of the first deacons ordained.
As the Catholic Church grew in numbers after Pentecost, the Apostles needed help to minister to them, especially the poor and widows. The diaconate was born. Today we have many men who are ordained deacons in order to help the Church in many ways.
The story of St. Stephen is introduced in the Acts of the Apostles chapters 6 and 7. In them, the miracles God worked through St. Stephen as well as his preaching and the drama of his enemies is presented. Even after Christ’s death and resurrection, Christ still had many enemies. Christianity was seen as a plague – a threat to the status quo and human liberty. Sounds like our times today right?
St. Stephen was slandered and rejected. When brought before his enemies, they shouted at him and mocked him. They refused to listen to his preaching about Christ. In a rage, they dragged him outside of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. As he was being stoned, St. Stephen prayed for mercy on the part of his attackers begging God not to punish them.
Stephen is a model for all Christians especially in times of persecution. We must continue to preach Christ in season and out of season and not fear. (2 Timothy 4:2) When we are attacked, mocked and hated; we must return these actions with love and prayer. (Matthew 5:43-45)
May St. Stephen pray for us all, especially those being persecuted and for deacons.