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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

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Acts 7,58; 8,1-3

thrust him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul.

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.

There were some devout people, however, who buried Stephen and made great mourning for him.

Saul then began doing great harm to the church; he went from house to house arresting both men and women and sending them to prison.


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

With the stoning of Stephen, so begins the history of Christian martyrs. The liturgy of the Church celebrates him as a ‘protomartyr,’ the first born to heaven, on December 26. The martyr is not a ‘hero’ but rather as disciple who follows Jesus till the end, that is giving his or her life for the good of others. Msgr. Romero, at the funeral of one priest who had been assassinated a few months before he himself was assassinated, said that all Christians are called to give their lives for others, to be ‘martyrs,’ that is to say, witnesses to Jesus’ borderless love. Some receive the grace of giving their life to the point of shedding their blood, of dying. Stephen is the first. Already as a deacon he was spending his life helping the poor and preaching the gospel of love. Now he was requested to give his life till the end, till death. He imitated Jesus also in this martyr-like itinerary. While people were stoning him and his life was ending, Stephen turned to his teacher, like Jesus turned to the Father, and said: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," and, as he knelt down, partially because of the stones being thrown at him, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." For him, like for Jesus, there were no enemies. Stephen rather prayed for his persecutors, so that they might repent and change their hearts. The world easily and normally hates its enemies or those it thinks such. And yet, the world needs to be emptied from violence and filled with forgiveness. It is Stephen’s gift to the starting Church and to the world. His death nourished the earth with meek and borderless love. Maybe this is why at the end of the cruel stoning the author of Acts notes that Stephen "fell asleep" (KJV). It is not just a way to sweeten this violent and tragic death, but it is rather to understand its true meaning. Stephen is the first of a very long series of martyrs who marked the long story of Jesus’ disciples and who, in the twentieth century, reached the highest number. The prince of evil always opposes Jesus’ disciples who do not give in to the primacy of love of themselves; he will always try to remove them from human history. That is what happened to Jesus: he could not be born in Bethlehem and had to leave the town; he went to Nazareth and was lead to the precipice to be killed, and finally in Jerusalem he was carried outside the walls and crucified.
In the liturgy that opened his pontificate, Benedict XVI said that it is the crucified that saves the world, not the crucifiers. And we can add that the many martyrs of the ages have saved and continue to save the world from destruction. Paul, who saw the martyrdom and approved of it to the point of continuing to persecute Christians, was perhaps the first have his heart touched by Stephen’s prayer.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets

Calendar of the week
Sunday, 15 October
Liturgy of the Sunday
Monday, 16 October
Prayer for peace
Tuesday, 17 October
Memory of the Mother of the Lord
Wednesday, 18 October
Memory of the Apostles
Thursday, 19 October
Memory of the Church
Friday, 20 October
Memory of Jesus crucified
Saturday, 21 October
Sunday Vigil
Sunday, 22 October
Liturgy of the Sunday