Feast of St. Stephen
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Mt 10:17-22
St. Francis de Sales is known for his saying, “A teaspoon of honey catches more flies than a barrel of vinegar.” He modeled for us the virtues of meekness and gentleness. Today we celebrate a saint who exemplifies a different approach. When on trial in front of the Sanhedrin he called out, “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.” (Acts 7:51-52) Little wonder they drug him out and stoned him.
St. Stephen did not worry about being politically correct; he did not worry about stepping on people’s toes. When the situation warranted it he wasn’t afraid to rock the boat and rattle cages. He had the courage to tell people what they needed to hear rather than what they wanted to hear.
Some people do that because they’re angry inside. It’s not really coming from love. They’re just looking for a target to vent their anger on in what they’ve fooled themselves into thinking is righteous indignation. In reality, it’s closer to misplaced aggression. Some in the pro-life movement have fit this description. If they have anger issues from wounds of their past, and their actions are springing from that more than from genuine love, the fruits won’t be there.
St. Stephen did have genuine love. When chosen, he gladly served at table and distributed goods to widows. He was “a man filled with grace and the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 6:5) And he was so “filled with grace and power” that he “was working great wonders and signs among the people.” (Acts 6:8) He was so immersed in God’s love that it reflected on his face, for we are told that “All those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel. “ (Acts 6:15) But the real test of his love came at the moment of his death when he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:60) He reflected his Master to the end.
Jesus, too, had his moments of caustic confrontation. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing. . . . You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?” (Mt 23:27-28; 33) Jesus, in his divine wisdom, knew that it was neither the time nor the place for a teaspoon of honey.
So, did the abrasive, seemingly intolerant and politically incorrect words of St. Stephen bear fruit? It’s no mere coincidence that St. Luke points out, “the witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58) As Tertullian would say 200 years later, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” St. Stephen was the first in a long line of witnesses who watered the Church with their blood.
St. Stephen, help us have the courage to stand up for our Christian values, even when they’re not politically correct.