St. Peter's Square
Wednesday, 25 September 2019
Catechesis on the Acts of the Apostles: 9. Stephen "full of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7.55) between diakonia and martyria.
Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!
Through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we continue to follow a journey: the journey of the Gospel to the world. Saint Luke, with great realism, shows both the fruitfulness of this journey and the emergence of some problems within the Christian community. From the beginning there have always been problems. How to harmonize the differences that cohabit within it without contrasts and splits happening?
The community not only welcomed the Jews, but also the Greeks, that is people from the diaspora, non-Jews, with their own culture and sensitivity and with another religion. Today we say "pagans". And these were welcomed. This coexistence determines fragile and precarious balance; and in the face of difficulties does the "tares" appear, and what is the worst darnel that destroys a community? The tares of murmuring, the tares of chatter: the Greeks murmur because of the community's inattention to their widows.
The Apostles begin a process of discernment which consists in considering the difficulties well and seeking solutions together. They find a way out in dividing up the various tasks for a serene growth of the whole ecclesial body and to avoid neglecting both the "race" of the Gospel and the care of the poorest members.
The Apostles are increasingly aware that their main vocation is prayer and the preaching of the Word of God: praying and proclaiming the Gospel; and they resolve the question by establishing a nucleus of "seven men of good reputation, full of Spirit and wisdom" (Acts 6: 3), who, after receiving the laying on of hands, will take care of the service of the tables. These are the deacons who are created for this, for service. The deacon in the Church is not a priest in the second, it is another thing; it is not for the altar, but for service. He is the custodian of service in the Church. When a deacon likes too much to go to the altar, he is wrong. This is not his way. This harmony between service to the Word and service to charity represents the leaven that makes the ecclesial body grow.
And the Apostles create seven deacons, and among the seven "deacons" are particularly distinguished Stephen and Philip. Stephen evangelizes with strength and parresia, but his word meets the most stubborn resistance. Finding no other way to stop him, what do his opponents do? They choose the most petty solution to annihilate a human being: that is, slander or false testimony. And we know that slander always kills. This "diabolical cancer", which arises from the desire to destroy a person's reputation, also attacks the rest of the ecclesial body and seriously damages it when, due to petty interests or to cover up its own defaults, there is a coalition to smear someone.
Conducted in the Sanhedrin and accused by false witnesses - the same they had done with Jesus and the same will do with all the martyrs through false witnesses and slanders - Stephen proclaims a rereading of sacred history centered in Christ, to defend himself. And the Easter of Jesus who died and rose again is the key to the whole history of the covenant. Faced with this overabundance of the divine gift, Stephen bravely denounces the hypocrisy with which the prophets and Christ himself have been treated. And remind them of the story by saying: "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Just, of whom you have now become traitors and murderers "(Acts 7.52). He doesn't use half words, but he speaks clearly, he tells the truth.
This causes the violent reaction of the listeners, and Stefano is sentenced to death, sentenced to stoning. But he manifests the true "stuff" of the disciple of Christ. He does not look for loopholes, he does not appeal to personalities who can save him but he puts his life back into the Lord's hands and Stephen's prayer is beautiful at that moment: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7.59) - and he died as a son of God, forgiving: "Lord, do not impute this sin to them" (Acts 7,60).
These words of Stephen teach us that it is not good speeches that reveal our identity as children of God, but only the abandonment of one's life in the hands of the Father and forgiveness for those who offend us who see the quality of our faith.
Today there are more martyrs than at the beginning of the life of the Church, and martyrs are everywhere. The Church of today is rich in martyrs, is irrigated by their blood which is "seed of new Christians" (Tertullian, Apologetic, 50.13) and ensures growth and fruitfulness to the People of God. Martyrs are not "holy cards", but men and women in flesh and blood who - as the Apocalypse says - "have washed their garments, making them white in the blood of the Lamb" (7,14). They are the real winners.
We also ask the Lord that, looking at the martyrs of yesterday and today, we can learn to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and of conformation to Christ.
Greetings in Various Languages:
Je salue cordialement les personnes de langue française, en particulier les pèlerins du diocèse de Tournai, accompagnés de leur Evêque Monseigneur Guy Harpigny. Etienne nous enseigne que ce ne sont pas les beaux discours qui révèlent notre identité de fils de Dieu, mais l’abandon de notre vie dans les mains du Père et le pardon des offenses. Demandons au Seigneur de pouvoir apprendre à vivre une vie pleine, acceptant le martyre de la fidélité quotidienne à l’Evangile et la configuration au Christ. Que Dieu vous bénisse !
I greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors taking part in today’s Audience, especially the groups from England, Scotland, Denmark, Malta, Norway, Kenya, Australia, Mariana Islands, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the United States of America. In a particular way my greeting goes to the new seminarians of the Venerable English College as they begin their priestly formation here in Rome. Upon all of you, and your families, I invoke the joy and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ. May God bless you!
Herzlich grüße ich die Pilger aus den Ländern deutscher Sprache. Bitten wir darum, dass wir nach dem Vorbild des heiligen Stephanus durch unser Zeugnis des Glaubens und der Liebe den Menschen die Schönheit des Antlitzes Christi aufstrahlen lassen können.
Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española venidos de España y Latinoamérica. Saludo a los miembros de Renova presentes en Roma durante esta semana para presentar sus trabajos en los Dicasterios. Pidamos de forma constante la fuerza del Espíritu Santo para poder dar la vida cotidianamente, testimoniando hasta el final el amor de Dios con plena libertad y sin miedo, como lo han hecho tantos mártires en la historia y lo siguen haciendo tantos hermanos nuestros todavía hoy. Que el Señor los bendiga.
Com grande afeto, saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, e de modo particular os brasileiros de Avaré, Salvador, Cachoeira Paulista, bem como os sacerdotes da Sociedade dos Joseleitos de Cristo e os fiéis da Diocese de Coxim, acompanhados pelo seu Bispo, Dom Antonino Migliore. Desejo a todos a graça de permanecer fiéis a Cristo Jesus, como nos ensinaram os mártires. O Espírito Santo vos ilumine para poderdes levar a Bênção de Deus a todos os homens. A Virgem Mãe vele sobre o vosso caminho e vos proteja.
أُرحّبُ بالحجّاجِ الناطقينَ باللغةِ العربية، وخاصةً بوفد الطلاب القادمين من مختلف أنحاء الشرق الأوسط. أيها الإخوةُ والأخواتُ الأعزاء، الشهداء هم أولئك الرجال والنساء الأمناء لقوّة الحب الوديع وصوت الروح القدس، والذين يسعون في حياتهم اليومية لمساعدة الإخوة ومحبّة الله بدون تحفظات؛ هم يعلموننا أنّه بإمكاننا أن نجاهد بقوّة المحبّة والوداعة ضد التسلُّط والعنف والحرب، وأن نحقق السلام بصبر. ليبارككُم الرّبّ!
[I cordially welcome the Arabic-speaking pilgrims, in particular the Middle East Student Delegation! Dear brothers and sisters, the martyrs are those men and women who are faithful to the mild force of love, to the voice of the Holy Spirit, who in everyday life seek to help the brothers and to love God without reserve; they teach us that, with the power of love, with meekness, we can fight against arrogance, violence, war and peace can be achieved with patience. The Lord bless you!]
Serdecznie pozdrawiam polskich pielgrzymów. Drodzy bracia i siostry, historia Kościoła od samego początku jest związana z ewangelizacją przez głoszenie Słowa, troskę o biednych i wierność Chrystusowi aż do męczeństwa. Prośmy Pana, abyśmy i my mogli żyć życiem pełnym, dając świadectwo i przyjmując męczeństwo codziennej wierności Ewangelii i Chrystusowi. Z serca wam błogosławię!
[I cordially greet the Polish pilgrims. Dear brothers and sisters, the history of the Church from the beginning is linked to evangelization through the proclamation of the Word, the care of the poor and the witness of fidelity to Christ until martyrdom. We ask the Lord that we too can live a full life, bearing witness and accepting the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and to Christ. I bless you heartily!]
I warmly welcome the Italian-speaking pilgrims.
I am pleased to welcome the participants in the General Chapters of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, of the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, of the Missionary Sisters of St. Peter Claver. I urge you to open yourselves docilely to the Holy Spirit to discern new ways of living the respective foundation charisms. I greet the Brothers of the Holy Family, the Members of the Carmelite Family, and all those taking part in the Course promoted by "Rome International Seminar 2019".
I also greet the parishes of Campocavallo di Osimo, with the archbishop of Ancona, Msgr. Spina, and of Viggianello, the Italian Association Victims of Violence, the Opera San Francesco for the Poor of Brescia, and the Zordan Groups of Valdagno and Noi-Huntington.
I am particularly interested in young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds.
Next Friday we will celebrate the memory of Saint Vincent de Paul, Founder and Patron of all the Charity Associations. The example of charity given to us by Saint Vincent de Paul, leads us all to a joyful and disinterested service to the most needy, and opens you to the duty of hospitality and the gift of life.