Today we hear about the murder of Stephen, one of the first deacons appointed by the apostles in the early Church. Chapters 7 and 8 of the Acts of the Apostles recounts the story of his martyrdom, brought about because he would not cease preaching about Jesus. He was trying to warn people to be ready for the return of the Lord and the judgement they would face, but the chief priests and elders thought he was blaspheming. Despite their protests, Stephen realized that he could not stop, but had to bring the message of Christ to them, despite the personal danger.
Even in death, Stephen showed his adherence to the example of Christ as he forgave his murderers. It is an amazing story that has inspired millions throughout history. But what about us? What can we learn from the story of this first martyr?
In reflecting on the story, I began to wonder if I have compromised my words in order not to offend, even when it was my duty to say something about a situation. We all have had the experience of being confronted with an action that is wrong, that is being put forth as "normal" or "acceptable". If you are like me, you may be somewhat reluctant to say anything, since no one else seems to mind. But if we are to follow the example of Christ, we must not be reluctant to give direct responses to these situations. Now I am NOT speaking about sticking our nose in places it does not belong. No, I am referring to the times when people either ask our advice or present us with a choice they are making and ask for help. Do we bring our faith into these situations? Do we allow the teachings of Christ to impact what we say to those who are facing a moral dilemma? I can recall a situation where a father, who had been a supporter of the Pro-Life teaching of the Church, said nothing to try and convince his own daughter not to have an abortion. She was young, unmarried and eager to begin college. He used the standard phrase "it is your decision and I will support you no matter what". Now, support of a child is an honorable thing., and our love is not contingent on the decisions of the one we love. But he totally abdicated his role as not only follower of Christ but also father, when he left the decision to the girl without trying to show her the morally correct thing to do and try to help her do it. He did not want his daughter to turn away from him.
Sorry, but I must admit I did not follow that course of action when the girl came to speak with me. I was able to speak the truth about the life of her child, and tried to explain what God was asking of her. We had a respectful, albeit emotional conversation, and she left to make her decision. In that moment, I felt a little like Stephen, since everyone else was telling her that it would be "the best thing" to rid herself of this "burden", since she should not "ruin her life because of one mistake". Rubbish! Because I moved out of state shortly after, I never saw her again and do not know what her decision was, but I have always been thankful that God gave me the grace to speak the truth with love to her.
Each and every day we are faced with situation in which we can choose to bring faith into play, or just go along with those who remain silent. It certainly carries a risk. Although stoning is no longer in vogue, we can certainly be cast out of our social group, circle of friends or even family when we stand on our faith. But it is a small price to pay for being faithful to Christ. I hope that I (and you) will have the courage to stand up for the morals that flow from our faith, even in the face of opposition. St. Stephen the Martyr, PRAY FOR US!