One Monk of the Order of Saint Benedict

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The Word of God and the Body of God reveal each other -- the homily worships both.

December 26, 2009

For the Feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr

Matthew 10:17-22
Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

In the space of a day, we have gone from the beginning of Christ’s newborn life on earth, through the fullness of his manhood, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension, past Pentecost, into the days of the first deacons and the first martyr.
We join St. Stephen who is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “who looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”
The vision and its testimony, for which St. Stephen underwent martyrdom, echo in the Church’s profession of faith that the Lord Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.”
Stephen’s vision has four things in it.
First: he saw heaven opened up.
Second: he saw the glory of God in heaven.
Third: he saw the Lord Jesus as a man in heaven.
Fourth: he saw that the Son of Man is also God at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
St. Stephen had his vision in the presence of Israel’s high priest, other priests, scribes, and elders.
He dared to tell them what he was seeing.
Upon hearing it they dragged him out for death by stoning.
As he suffered the deadly hail, he dared to testify again with the words that are the first known prayer to the name of Jesus in heaven.
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Stephen prayed to the Lord Jesus whom he knew to be at the right hand of the Father.
Was it the first time that a Christian prayed to the ascended Lord Jesus by name?
We don’t know.
The Lord Jesus had taught us to pray to his Father and ours, “Our Father who art in heaven….”
The Lord Jesus had also spoken of the Holy Spirit and of himself in terms of their both being our intercessors, our paracletes, our advocates at the throne of the Father.
If not in St. Stephen, then by his time, Christian prayer became peculiarly or properly Christian.
That is, it was not merely prayer to God, not only prayer to the heavenly Father, but also prayer to the person of Christ.
It became Christian in another sense.
Already to say, “Our Father,” is to pray as Christ prayed.
With the dying words of Stephen we see Christian prayer begin to imitate Christ in other ways as well.
On the cross the Lord Jesus prayed aloud to the Father.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
St. Stephen spoke his own dying prayers to the Lord Jesus.
Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.

Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
With that last prayer, St. Stephen, like all other saints in heaven, is also a paraclete, an advocate, an intercessor.
He seeks the salvation of sinners by the forgiveness of their sins.
The forgiveness of St. Stephen was not about ending the suffering of Stephen.
The forgiveness of the Lord Jesus was not about ending the suffering of Jesus.
Christian forgiveness seeks the everlasting welfare of sinners in reconciliation with God.
As the vision of Stephen upholds, Christian forgiveness is about heaven being opened in hope that sinners and unbelievers might receive reconciliation with God.
Finally, St. Stephen’s Christian prayer and forgiveness are Eucharistic.
Stephen made the deadly sacrifice of his own body and blood into a prayer that handed himself over to the Lord, and a prayer for the salvation of others.
You and I are here with faith’s vision, faith’s knowledge— St. Stephen’s vision and knowledge.
We too are called to Eucharistic sacrifice and Eucharistic intercession.
We are not here for ourselves alone, but for all who sin and all who do not believe.
Through the intercession of St. Stephen, may the Holy Spirit fill us that the Lord Jesus may receive us into the heavenly glory of God.
Lord Jesus, receive our spirits!
Lord, do not hold our sins against any of us!

That God Be Glorified in All


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