Scripture: 1st Reading: Acts7,51-8,1; Resp. Psalm: Ps31,3-4,6-8,17,21; Gosp. Accl.: Jn3,35; Gospel: Jn6,30-35
The boldness and passion with which Stephen testified to the Lord in whom he believed astounded and stupefied many who listened to him. He was totally fearless. The words of the Lord that believers should never fear those who can kill only the body but have no power to kill the soul must have been the motivation of the life of this supreme Christian witness.
He accused them of being stiff-knecked, of resisting the Holy Spirit, of killing those sent by God to announce His word to them, of receiving the law but refusing to keep it. These were more than the people could chew. They took him out and stoned him to death. But in the midst of all these, Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit. He saw heaven here on earth. He saw Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father. He saw the beatific vision, the reward for all his sufferings!
As Stephen was being stoned, God was bringing out a good from this terrible murder: the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of Saul. That was like a mystical passing of the baton. Paul, who approved of Stephen's murder, and who persecuted the Church to death, would one day become the great champion of the way he tried to destroy.
Our Lord had assured His disciples during His earthly life in the discourse on the bread of life that He was the true bread, that is, the bread of life. Our Lord said the bread He was to give was not the same as the manna that Moses gave in the desert. In fact, Moses was not even the one who gave that bread. It was the Father who gave it.
But the difference also lies in the fact that whereas those who ate the manna still hungered for more, those who comes to Jesus, the bread of life shall not hunger and whoever believes in Him shall never thirst. Stephen believed in these words of our Lord with all his heart. He partook of the breaking of the bread. He ate the Body and drank the Blood of Jesus.
He was strengthened by the strength of this food to give outstanding witnessing and face his tormentors fearlessly. That Body and Blood is available to us daily in the Catholic Church. Do we dispose ourselves to meet the Lord daily in His sacrifice for our salvation?
St. Athanasius was also strengthened by this divine food daily. He was able to withstand the onslaught of the Arian heretics who denied the divinity of Jesus. He spent his entire life to champion the truth of the faith. May he intercede for us too in our quest to follow the true faith and teaching of the Church.
Let us pray: "Almighty, ever living God, who raised up the Bishop Saint Athanasius as am outstanding champion of your Son's divinity, mercifully grant, that rejoicing in his teaching and his protection, we may never cease to grow in knowledge and love of you." Amen
May the Living Word of God find a true dwelling place within our hearts and souls today and always. Rev. Fr. Anthony Igbekele