Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Lord, do not hold this sin against them!" (Saint Stephen, Martyr)

I notice in the post on devotions I neglected to name my favorite saint. Saint Stephen is certainly among them!

Stephen was one of the first deacons of the Church.

When I pray to Saint Stephen, I pray for the present-day deacons of the Catholic Church. They are remarkable men.

Who is a Roman Catholic deacon? (from the Boston Diaconate web site)

Through Holy Orders, the deacon acquires a special relationship to the bishop. Though surely "his own man" - by reason of his place in the hierarchy - tradition refers to him as "the bishop's man ... the bishop's ears and eyes." His ministry of charity, word, and sacrament enables the Church to be a credible sign of the Servant Christ in the world.

The deacon should be a creative leader - an "inspirator" - one who gradually initiates a meaningful response of loving service from the community to those who are in spiritual or material need. Ordained PRIMARILY to be a minister of charity, he will hold himself accountable for such a service before God and the Church. He will draw his strength and his continuing motivation from the Holy Eucharist where- he is transformed by his reception of the Body and Blood of Christ.

Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr, imitated Christ.

We didn't hear this in the Readings today, but it's worth noting. As he was dying for the love of Jesus, Stephen said: "Lord, do not hold this sin against them!"

He prayed for those who, actively or passively, brought about his death.

From Acts 7:

They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Stephen prayed for his killers. He prayed for Saul.

As Saint Augustine noted:

"If Stephen had not prayed to God, the Church would not have had Paul." ( "Sermons," 315, 7)

What can Saint Stephen teach us?

I think it's important to always try to remember to forgive -- and pray for! -- those who seem to be our enemies. Through the deacon Stephen's plea to God, we became blessed with the great apostle Paul.

And pray for our deacons.

The deaconate is a noble vocation. And, as is the case with all noble vocations, it is in need of our prayers.

As Saint Polycarp, another martyr, prayed:

"Let them be merciful and zealous, and let them walk according to the truth of the Lord who became servant of all."