”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”
When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him.
Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.
And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved.
The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – of “God is dead” fame – once commented that martyrs are likely surprised not by death’s lack of pain but by pain in a place they did not expect it. For saints like Stephen of the 1st century and Peter Chanel of the 19th, I imagine their greatest suffering came in the thought of leaving a world in which so much remained to be done. Little has changed in the intervening centuries; Stephen’s words – “you stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears” – apply as much to us as to the listeners of his time! In myriad ways our hearts remain hardened and our ears stopped to Jesus’ insistent call to “justice, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rm 14:17). Are we making the most of our limited time on Earth?
Practice: This week look for little ways to overcome the selfishness, resentment, and indifference that continues to leave us “uncircumcised in hearts and ears.”
Prayer: Lord Jesus, in martyrs like Stephen and Peter Chanel you give us examples of a life lived entirely for you. Encourage us by their example to do whatever we can to build a kingdom where justice, peace, and joy reign in the minds and hearts of all.
—Erin Kast, SJPlease share the Good Word with your friends!