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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you.
The child you shall bear will be holy.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Acts 7,51-8,1a

'You stubborn people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears. You are always resisting the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. Can you name a single prophet your ancestors never persecuted? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Upright One, and now you have become his betrayers, his murderers. In spite of being given the Law through angels, you have not kept it.' They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him. But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God's right hand. 'Look! I can see heaven thrown open,' he said, 'and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.' All the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they made a concerted rush at him, thrust him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and said aloud, 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them.' And with these words he fell asleep. Saul approved of the killing. That day a bitter persecution started against the church in Jerusalem, and everyone except the apostles scattered to the country districts of Judaea and Samaria.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Look down, O Lord, on your servants.
Be it unto us according to your word.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

With the stoning of Stephen begins the history of Christian martyrs. He imitates Jesus to his death. Luke reports his last words, which are similar to those Jesus spoke from the cross: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and again, when Stephen falls to his knees under the rain of stones, he prays, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And he "fell asleep," the author notes in Greek, as if to soften this violent and tragic death. Stephen is the first (the protomartyr) of a long series of martyrs, which in the twentieth century reached the highest number in the history of the Church. The martyr is someone who does not make deals with the selfish mentality of this world; that is why he or she is violently driven out of the world. That is what happened to Jesus, too. He could not be born in Bethlehem and had to go out; he went to Nazareth and was taken up to the precipice to be killed; and finally in Jerusalem he was taken outside of the walls and crucified. Martyrs are witnesses of the Gospel to the very edge of love, to the point of shedding their blood. Following the example of Jesus, Stephen forgives the people who are killing him. As for Jesus, there are no enemies for him; instead he prays for his persecutors so that they might come to their senses and convert their hearts. For the world, it is easy and normal to hate enemies, or those who are considered as such. And yet what the world needs is to be emptied of its enormous store of violence and filled with forgiveness and love. It is the crucified one who saves the world, not the crucifiers. And we can add that the many martyrs of every age have saved and continue to save the world from destruction. Paul, who had witnessed the martyring of Stephen and approved it to the point of continuing his persecution of Christians, was perhaps the first whose heart was touched by Stephen’s prayer.

Memory of the Mother of the Lord