Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. In the first reading from Acts of the Apostles, we see the story of Stephen’s martyrdom. And in the Gospel from Matthew 10, Jesus tells the disciples, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved.” St. Stephen certainly was saved.
There have been countless martyrs in the history of Christianity. Men and women who shed their blood and gave their lives because they would not renounce Christ Jesus. And St. Stephen was the first. As they were stoning him and he was about to die, he cries, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And, (not included in today’s reading), “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Remember, at any time, Stephen could have backed down. But he didn’t.
St. Stephen shows us the picture of enduring to the end – the ultimate end. Reading about St. Stephen always makes me wonder if I would do the same thing. After all, there are so many times when I will back down from my faith in the face of far less daunting circumstances. Like being embarrassed. Or not wanting to rock the boat. Or because it would be inconvenient at the moment to stand up for Christ. I can only pray that, should the time come for that ultimate test of faith, I, like St. Stephen, would “endure to the end.”
Father, we thank you for the witness, for the ultimate sacrifice of St. Stephen, the first martyr. Give us that same spirit, that we would never back down from proclaiming Christ. Amen.