Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Acts 7:51-8:1a; John 6:30-35)

When St. Francis of Assisi heard that some of his friars were enticing Muslims into killing them, he put a stop to the practice.  He insisted that the missionary norms of his order prohibit both using arms to force conversions and taunting Muslims to martyr missionaries.  One wonders if Stephen in today’s first reading should not have been prudent in this way.

Stephen is a Greek-speaking Jew.  He comes from the Diaspora with little stake in the Jerusalem temple.  His diatribe against it perhaps reflects the sentiment of his background.  More than that, Stephen is a fervent convert to Christ.  He no doubt harbors resentment for the people of Jerusalem for having executed Jesus.  His outburst deserves some response, but certainly stoning is uncalled for.

Stephen’s story presents us with a few lessons.  First, we want to imitate his zeal to tell others about Christ who is our comforter and helper.  Second, we want to avoid Stephen’s harshness.  More people will be drawn to Christ by reflecting his peace than by exhibiting Stephen’s fury.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, like Stephen imitating Jesus, we want to forgive those who have offended us.  We should begin now so that we do not forget to do so at death.