Acts 8: 1b-8
There broke out a severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria, except the Apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him. Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment.
Now those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. Thus Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Christ to them. With one accord, the crowds paid attention to what was said by Philip when they heard it and saw the signs he was doing. For unclean spirits, crying out in a loud voice, came out of many possessed people, and many paralyzed and crippled people were cured. There was great joy in that city.
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. http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations
Martyrs for Jesus
This reading introduces us to Stephen being buried by devout men. Stephen was the first deacon and the first Christian martyr. All this is going on while the Church in Jerusalem is suffering from severe persecution. Our Church and its members are still being persecuted in Jerusalem, 2,000 years after Christ’s death to save us. I think Christ was our first Christian martyr! He died after being persecuted for not denying his faith, his faith in his father- to save all of us and lead us towards redemption.
The enormity of being a martyr for one’s faith has always profoundly moved me. I remember in grammar school when I stayed home from school when I was ill, my parents gave me a book about saints to read. I remember enjoying reading the stories about the saints. What I do not remember is at what age it dawned on me that the individuals I was reading about became saints because they usually suffered a painful death. They died after being persecuted for their faith. They were providing us with ongoing examples of their devotion and love for our Lord, similar to our Lord’s devotion to His Father.
These rich lives of the saints provide us with wonderful examples of devotion and people to pray to. They also provide a testament to being strong in the face of enormous adversity. If we believe, and have faith while focusing on our Lord and the reward of eternal happiness in heaven with Him, we can overcome anything.
I wonder if I am capable of being as brave as our blessed saints were?
—Bob Thomas is Executive Director and CEO of Rainbows for All God’s Children, Evanston IL
Holy Spirit, please come into my life to give me the courage and resolve to defend our faith and to live it openly with charity and love towards all. May I be a witness to our Lord’s gifts and example of love towards all, as those saints have done before us. Amen
—The Jesuit prayer team