Wednesday, May 7, 2014
St. Stephen and forgiveness: Daily Mass Homily--Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 (Student Mass at CSS)
In our daily Mass cycle of readings we are continuing with the story about Stephen.
Stephen was one of the first seven deacons of the Church. He was called in a special way to serve—this is what the Greek word diakonia actually means. This vocation was fostered by a practical need of the apostles. They had become so busy preaching the Gospel and breaking the bread that they were pressed for time and unable to work with the poor as they wanted. Through the inspiration of God, they raised up deacons to focus on this crucial ministry.
Such an idea—setting aside specific individuals for service in the world—was strongly emphasized by Vatican II. The mind of the Council has priests primary arena of work to be the Church. The mission for the laity—the world. My job is to help you in your faith. Your job is to transform the world.
St. Stephen models one of the most important features of our faith: forgiveness. While he was being stoned (and this wasn’t like kids throwing pebbles at each other…he was brutally killed by rocks and boulders) he prayed for his murderers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
How often in our lives we fail to forgive. We hold onto anger and grudges. A small comment or a person who annoys us can lead to bitterness, judging, gossip and a hard heart. This is in direct opposition of our faith! When you are tempted to be unforgiving—which can be a natural reaction, especially when we are seriously wronged or hurt—remember St. Stephen who prayed as he was being murdered.
St. Paul gives wise advice when it comes to such anger: “do not let the sun go down on your anger…” I encourage you, do not let this school year end with anger. Is there someone you need to ask for forgiveness? Do you need to offer forgiveness? Have the courage to make peace before the year’s end—if not personally then at least with God.
Forgiveness is expected for Christians. In the early Church men and women stood out from the crowd precisely for forgiving their enemies—often while being tormented or martyred as St. Stephen was. This expectation is only raised by the fact that we receive the bread of life in our own bodies. Christ died to forgive us, and gives us his body and blood to give us the grace to be forgiving ourselves.
Forgiving others when we are wronged is evangelistic. I pray that you live with a forgiving heart, especially at the end of this school year.