Martyred circa 36 AD, Stephen has become the proto-martyr or the first martyr of Christianity. We find allusions to him in the Acts of the Apostles and his feast day is celebrated on the next day of Christmas. “As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Greek-speaking Christians complained about the Hebrew-speaking Christians, saying that their widows were being neglect-ed in the daily distribution. A proposal to appoint Stephen for the task was accepted. Certain Jews, members of the Synagogue of Roman Freedmen, debated with Stephen, but proved no match for the wisdom and spirit with which he spoke. They persuaded others to make the charge of blasphemy against him. He was seized and carried before the Sanhedrin. In his speech, Stephen recalled God’s guidance through Israel’s history, as well as Israel’s idolatry and disobedience.
While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59
The life of St. Stephen is given to us as a true model of Jesus. They both died forgiving those who killed them. True Christian martyrdom is an act of love. If we completely spend ourselves for the faith, but do so with bitterness and hatred, is it really a Christian act? Whether we find ourselves sweeping the streets or preaching in missionary lands, it is the love inspiring the act that makes it truly Christian. God is love. We, too, must become love. Today, search your heart and see if there is any bitterness or harsh judgment therein. Offer it up to Jesus for him to cleanse it. Then, make every act of this day an act of love.