Pastor Column, Seventh Sunday of Easter: June 2, 2019
Msgr. Joseph Tracy, St. Stanislaus Parish
This week in the opening reading we celebrate Stephen, the first martyr for the faith. The account of his death and his conduct during his actual execution is remarkably reminiscent of the death of Jesus. Remembering and retelling the stories of the martyrs is an important element of our faith. This holy group of men and women believed in something strong enough to die for it. They not only confronted the opposing voices of society, they also confront our Church and each member as well. They cause us to ask a very fundamental question: on what is our faith based and how strongly do we hold it? Their witness spurs us to question whether we would be willing to sacrifice all for what we believe?
Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel, at the Last Supper, is for His disciples and for “all who will believe in me through their word.” What we witness in Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts is the fruition of Jesus’ prayer. Stephen has responded to the message of the disciples, and he in turn gives testimony to Christ. And so it goes, to our present age, we who have believed the words (and actions) of those who preceded us. Stories about great women and men in the Church give us confidence that Christ continues to act powerfully through other humans. Jesus, as He promised, continues to reveal God to us. These witnesses are the proof of God’s love for us and God’s ability to use our human nature in powerful ways to continue to reveal the God of love.
The primary witness of the martyrs was the strength of their faith in Jesus. Belief in Him requires us to speak and act on what He teaches us. We cannot keep our faith tucked quietly away for special moments at Church on Sunday or in private prayer. Many Catholics find this boldness difficult for them, something strange or a practice reserved for Protestant Christian believers. Demonstrating our faith need not be “in your face.” We can do it in other ways, particularly in our attitudes, language, approach to problems, the way we bring hope to a situation, a concern for the poor and the marginalized. We have many examples of people who did these things in extraordinary ways. Whether we consider our witness extraordinary or not, we all have a duty to live Jesus in the world . . . as expressed by French priest Michel Quoist, (+1997) and incorrectly attributed to Theresa of Avila says poetically: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
It’s a daunting challenge, but with the help of the Holy Spirit we can certainly try!