A heavenly vision

May 29, 2022

Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, the first Christian to stand before a murderous crowd and not back down from  proclaiming his faith, needed the kind of courage that few of us imagine ourselves to have. We try to witness to our faith in what we say and do, but what kind of testimony would we be capable of providing with our life on the line? Stephen, however, was not looking at the persecutors in front of him. Instead, he beheld the risen Christ at God’s right hand in a heavenly vision. It was the belief in the saving death and resurrection of our Lord that gave him the strength to speak in the face of evil. It was also this belief that allowed him to see that Christ’s saving death could save even them. “Lord, do not hold this sin against them,” Stephen cried out as he was being stoned, echoing the words Jesus spoke on the cross (Acts 7:60). We cannot know if he realized that one of “them” was the person perhaps most responsible for the persecution of the early church, the young man honored by the crowd, one Saul of Tarsus. But we realize now that the Lord heard his dying prayer, for he sought Saul out on the road to Damascus and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Stephen found the strength to forgive his murderers in his dying breath, directing the Lord to him who became the premier missionary of the Christian faith. Right in front of his disciples Jesus spoke tenderly to the Father, making the prayer that we hear today. He desperately desires that humanity know the intimacy between Father and Son. “You . . . are in me and I in you,” he says, asking that all may be one (John 17:21). The final words of his prayer—his final words before he walks out to the garden where he will be arrested (remember, this is at the Last Supper)—reveals his goal: “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them” (17:26). When we love our neighbor in the way that God loves us, we share in that love between Father and Son and we can become one with our Creator and Savior. Amen. (Casey, Most Reverend Robert G. Pastoral Patterns. World Library Publication, 2022)

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