On this Second Day of Christmas in the Book of Acts, we hear about St. Stephen, one of the first seven deacons of the Church, chosen to serve the poor and the widows, and to perform other mistrial needs in the community as determined by the Apostles. As the early church expanded, these First Bishops needed help, so they chose seven men who were “filled with faith and the Holy Spirit” to be appointed, presented, and ordained through the laying on of hands to extend the pastoral care of the Apostles themselves. (cf. NAB, ACTS 6-7)
As he began his ministry, Stephen, filled with wisdom, grace, and power from heaven, saw many come to the faith; he was a great preacher and performed many miracles among the people. His service to Christ eventually led to his being put on trial by the Sanhedrin, where several false witnesses were brought forward to testify against him. Yet even “those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like that of an angel.” (6:15)
Stephen defended himself, preaching intently about Salvation History, demonstrating Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the prophets and the resistance and opposition of the Israelites. St. Stephen accused the Sanhedrin: “You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it.” (7:53) This incensed them, but bolstered Stephen who preached all the more boldly. The accusers rushed Stephen, “threw him out of the city, and began to stone him” to death, a persecution and execution overseen by a young man named Saul (later to be known as Paul, the Apostle). St. Stephen’s last words: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (7:59-60)
Heavenly Father, St. Stephen, your Deacon and the First Martyr of the Church, was chosen to give up his life for you. Fill me with faith and embolden me with courage to profess Jesus at all times and in all circumstances, the preach your Holy Gospel, the Good News of Salvation to the world in my words and through my actions. And when my time comes to depart from this life, may my lips be filled with love for you as I echo the words of Stephen, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Amen.