Day 328: Stephen Is Martyred

Acts 7:1-53 Stephen’s long defense was a complete summary of the history of Israel from the time of Abraham to the reign of Solomon, builder of the first Temple. Stephen reminded them that their ancestors had persecuted all of the prophets and noted that Christ was only the latest prophet of Israel to be rejected. While Jews hold sacred the Temple and the land of Palestine, Stephen pointed out that God is not confined to these places and, in fact, he is present in every place and in every time. This was in accord with many Old Testament prophets (especially Isaiah and Jeremiah), who had taught that Israel should not focus solely on external rituals at the expense of genuine love of God and neighbor. His response to the charges was that the Temple and the Old Law had given way to the  New Law of grace and charity derived from the teachings and life of Christ. He is the prophet of which Moses spoke. (CCC 1964)

Ch 7:9-36 Stephen described both Joseph and Moses in terms that parallel the life and mission of Christ, although in an imperfect way. (a) Each was rejected by his own people: Joseph by his brothers, Moses by the captive Israelites he was trying to defend, and Christ by the Romans and Jewish authorities. (b) Each was rescued by God: Joseph was saved from the pit, Moses was rescued from Pharaoh’s order to kill the Israelite male infants, and Christ was raised from the dead. (c) Each had become a liberator for his people: Joseph saved his people from famine by inviting them to Egypt, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, and Christ redeemed the world through his Death and Resurrection. Joseph and Moses are thus “types” (TYPOLOGY!!) of the Old Testament that prefigure Christ. (CCC 1094-1097)

Ch 7:37-43 Moses had prophesied the coming of a prophet dramatically greater than himself (cf. Dt 18:15). This prophecy was fulfilled in Christ. The idolatry of the Israelites was the chief manifestation of their infidelity to the laws of God. (CCC 2567)

Ch 7:44-50 Solomon understood that the Temple was a sacred place made by  human hands that could not contain God’s infinite and transcendent being. Stephen was implicitly comparing the Jews’ excessive reference for the Temple building to the idolatry of generations past. (CCC 2581)

Ch 7:54-60 The Roman law forbidding the Jews to execute lawbreakers was still in effect. Stephen’s martyrdom shows the following similarities to the Passion of Christ: As he was dying on the Cross, Christ commended his spirit to the Father (cf. Lk 23:46); as Stephen was being stoned, he asked Christ to receive his spirit. Like Christ, Stephen asked God to forgive those who were persecuting him. Such prayers of intercession for one’s enemies and persecutors represent a supernatural love rooted in the grace of God. Stephen sought to imitate Christ perfectly, even unto death. (CCC 597, 601, 663, 1281-1284, 2635)

Ch 7:56 Stephen’s remarkable vision of Christ at the right hand of the Father, i.e., vested with the power and authority of God, further attests to the divinity of Christ. (CCC 659, 2715)

Ch 7:58 Saul, who will become a major protagonist in the early Christian Church, is introduced here as one of those responsible for the death of Stephen. 

Romans 11:1-10 Although many of the Jews did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, God did not reject Israel. Through his faithful remnant, the Church, God offers salvation to the entire world. Both Jews and Gentiles are invited to reconciliation to God through Christ. (CCC 711, 1081)

Ch 11:6 No longer on the basis of works: Grace, freely given by God, compels and empowers us to do good words as a necessary response to grace. Responding to grace with good works opens us to still more grace. Works are possible with the gift of grace, yet grace and works are inseparable. (CCC 2008)

Ch 11:11-15 Considering the magnificent conversions and transformations among the Gentiles, who were not the original beneficiaries of divine predilection, the future conversion of the Jewish people will be all the more glorious. (CCC 674)

Ch 11:17-26 Using a horticultural analogy, Paul stated that Gentiles had been grafted onto the root of the tree that was Israel. The Gentiles did not supplant Israel but joined it and then shared in its heritage and promises. Rather than being filled with pride, Gentiles should be overwhelmed and grateful for God’s mercy. Likewise, the Jews, who did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah and, therefore, had been broken off the tree, still have an opportunity to reconcile and be regrafted onto that same root. (CCC 60, 591, 674, 755)

Ch 11:25-36 It was God’s will that Gentiles as well as his Chosen People should find salvation. Through Christ, God fulfilled the promise of salvation made to the Israelites despite their failure to believe in him, a salvation now offered to all people. Paul called the eventual conversion of Israel a mystery (cf. verse 25), possibly alluding to the reality of Israel’s final participation in Christ’s Resurrection (cf. verse 15). (CCC 60, 442, 839-840, 1870)

Ch 12:1-8 Because our justification, bestowed upon us through Christ’s redemptive Sacrifice, conforms us to the will of God, we must willingly emulate the life of Christ and refrain from conforming ourselves to worldly behavior. The physical body is enlivened by the soul and is an integral part of a human being; likewise, an essential component of our new life in Christ is to control the passions and appetites of the flesh so we can worthily follow Christ and offer ourselves as a pure offering to God the Father. (CCC 1370-1372, 1990-1991, 1996, 2860)

Ch 12:1 Holy and acceptable: All the baptized are called to a life of holiness, living virtuously, avoiding impurity of mind and action, and practicing moderation in food and drink. The moral life is a form of spiritual worship that sets the stage for a solid spiritual life expressed in an intimate friendship with Christ. Lastly, this life in Christ will also be made manifest through habitual deeds of charity. (CCC 1454, 1809, 1838, 2031, 2341)

Ch 12:2-3 The Sacrament of Baptism confers a grace that removes both Original and all actual sin and initiates a growth in holiness. Among the effects of Baptism are an infusion of sanctifying grace, the theological virtues, and moral virtues together with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The effort to love God through prayer, self-denial, and deeds of charity results in an increase in the sanctifying grace gratuitously bestowed in Baptism. (CCC 8, 179, 2520, 2826)

Ch 12:4-5 As the Mystical Body of Christ, the People of God represent a diverse unity. All are called to serve complementary roles in building and strengthening the Mystical Body of Christ. The baptized are also members of the common “priesthood of the faithful,” whose mission is to cooperate with Christ in bringing redemption to the world The priesthood of the faithful is distinct from the ministerial priesthood, which acts in persona Christi Capitis (“in the Person of Christ the Head”), especially in the celebration of the liturgy. (CCC 791, 813-814, 1142, 1372)

Ch 12:6-8 Gifts: The Greek charisma-“charism,” or “gift”-is rooted in charis, meaning “grace.” These charisms, or gifts, are meant to be at the service of the faithful to facilitate their fidelity to Christ and as a means of spreading the Gospel.

In proportion to our faith: Prophecy must always be evaluated according to the criteria of Church doctrine. Such a consideration of the coherence of revealed truths is called the “analogy of faith.”

He who exhorts...cheerfulness: All gifts and ministries are to be used in service to the Church and one another in a spirit of joy. (CCC 114, 768, 2004, 2039)

Ch 12:9-21 Every member of the faithful has different gifts, but all are called to use the greatest of all gifts, charity, always seeking the good of others. The virtues Paul describes here are the fruits of love and charity. (CCC 1706, 1971, 2003)

Ch 12:12 In addition to personal prayer and liturgical celebrations, our entire lives become a prayer when we dedicate ourselves and all aspects of our lives to the glory of God, constantly loving and serving those around us. (CCC 1820, 2039, 2745)

(*The Didache Bible RSV-CE Ignatius Edition, 2006)

The Martyrdom of Stephen 

(*Walking With God: A Journey Through The Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins)

Prayer by Fr. Mike: “Father in Heaven we give you praise and thank you so much. Oh Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for the gift of these readings today. Help us to be yours. Help us to hear your words and put them into practice this day and every day. Help us to receive your grace and be grateful for the fact that you have saved us and grafted us into the Tree of Israel. Thank you, Lord. We praise you, Lord. We bless you. Please receive our praise. Please receive the blessing in Jesus’ name. Amen.”