The Christian who does not witness to the faith becomes sterile. This was the focus of Pope Francis' homily at this morning's Mass (Tuesday 6 May 2014) at Casa Santa Marta. The Pope drew inspiration from the martyrdom of St Stephen, narrated in the Acts of the Apostles. The Church, he said, is "not a university of religion", but the people who follow Jesus. Only in this way, he added , is the Church both "fruitful and mother".
In his homily Pope Francis traced the path that led to the death of the first martyr of the Church, a death that was the exact replica of Christ's. Stephen, like Jesus, had encountered "the jealousy of the leaders who were trying" to eliminate him. He too had "false witnesses" , a "rushed judgment". The Pope warned there were also those today who were resisting the Holy Spirit, people who were uneasy, 'not at peace in their hearts". These people, he added, had " hatred " in their heart . That is why, on hearing Stephen's words, they were furious. This hatred, said Pope Francis, 'was sown in their hearts by the devil...this is the devil's hatred of Christ".
The devil "who did what he wanted with Jesus Christ in his Passion now does the same" with Stephen. This "struggle between God and the devil" is clearly seen in martyrdom. On the other hand, Jesus had told his disciples that they had to rejoice to be persecuted in his name: "To be persecuted, to be a martyr, to give ones' life for Jesus is one of the Beatitudes". That is why, the Pope added , "the devil cannot stand seeing the sanctity of a church or the sanctity of a person, without trying to do something". This is what he does with Stephen, but Stephen "died, like Jesus, forgiving".
"Martyrdom is the translation of a Greek word that also means witness. And so we can say that a Christian follows in the footsteps of Christ, to bear witness to Him and, many times, this witness ends up in laying down one's life...We are not a ' religion' of ideas, of pure theology, beautiful things, of commandments. No, we are a people who follow Jesus Christ - who want to bear witness to Jesus Christ - and sometimes this witness leads to laying down our lives".
On Stephen's death, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles, "a severe persecution began against the Church in Jerusalem". These persecutors, the Pope observed , "felt strong and the devil provoked them to do this" and so "Christians scattered to the regions of Judea and Samaria". The people spread far and wide and wherever they went they explained the Gospel , gave testimony of Jesus , and so the "mission of the Church" began. Many people converted, on hearing them. One of the Fathers of the Church, explained this by saying : "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". With "their witness, they preach the faith".
"Witness, be it in everyday life, in difficulties, and even in persecution and death, always bears fruit. The Church is fruitful and a mother when she witnesses to Jesus Christ. Instead , when the church closes in on itself , when it thinks of itself as a - so to speak - 'school of religion', with so many great ideas, with many beautiful temples, with many fine museums, with many beautiful things, but does not give witness, it becomes sterile. The Christian is the same. The Christian who does not bear witness, is sterile, without giving the life he has received from Jesus Christ".
The Pope continued, "Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit", and "we cannot bear witness without the presence of the Holy Spirit in us". Pope Francis advised those present: "In difficult times, where we have to choose the right path, where we have to say 'no' to a lot of things that maybe try to seduce us, there is prayer to the Holy Spirit, and He makes us strong enough to take this path of witness".
"Today thinking about these two icons - Stephen, who dies, and the people, the Christians, fleeing, scattering far and wide because of the violent persecution - let us ask: How is my witness? Am I a Christian who witnesses to Jesus or am I a simple numerary in this sect ? Am I fruitful because I bear witness, or sterile because I am unable to let the Holy Spirit lead me forward in my Christian vocation?"
Source: Vatican Radio
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