In today’s first reading we begin to hear the story of Stephen, the first martyr. The Greek word martyr means to be a “witness.” In this sense all of us are called to be martyrs as were the first disciples: “But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses (martyres) in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Stephen not only witnessed with his preaching, his “great wonders and signs” but also with his death.
When Jesus died on the cross, He addressed these words to God:
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:34, 46)
Stephen echoes those words of Jesus at the time of his own death as he now addresses his prayer to Jesus, who is now at the right hand of the Father:
“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
“Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60)
Stephen’s final words like those of Jesus are words of forgiveness and faith. Faith means trusting in God even more than we trust in ourselves. Faith is commending our spirit, our very self, into the loving hands of God. We are called upon to do this not only at the hour of our death but also in our daily life by putting God’s Will before all else, even our own will and our very self.
Like Stephen we are filled with the holy Spirit through our baptism. This Spirit or loving presence of God in our daily life empowers us to love one another as God has already loved us. The Spirit enables us to at least begin to forgive. Sometimes, when we have been hurt deeply, forgiveness can take a lifetime. Trusting in the power of God’s love let us today at least strive to begin that path of forgiving others and forgiving ourselves.