Share the story of St. Stephen
When reading the Acts of the Apostles, we cannot help but ask: “Could anyone be bolder than St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, who was thrown out of the city and stoned to death for his fearless witness to Christ?”
In Acts 6 we hear that Stephen was “a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit” and that he “was working great wonders and signs among the people.” The leaders “could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.” They tell lies about him, but Stephen unfailingly chooses truth over fear, knowing he is risking his very life.
In Acts 7 Stephen recounts the rejection of God’s chosen leaders throughout salvation history — stating that, like their ancestors, the people of his own time “always oppose the holy Spirit” — and then concludes: “They put to death those who foretold the coming of the righteous one, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become.”
What courage! But then he takes it one step further. Filled with the Spirit and trusting completely in the Lord’s faithfulness as he is dying, Stephen does the unthinkable: He forgives them all — and asks the Father to do the same.
From the Word
“When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. … As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do
not hold this sin against them’; and when he said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:54-55, 59-60).
■ Why was Stephen accused and stoned? ( for teaching about Jesus)
■ What did he remind his listeners? (that people have always rejected those whom God
■ Where did Stephen get his courage? ( from the Holy Spirit)
■ Where can we find the grace to forgive those who oppose us? (that same Holy Spirit!)
1. Filled with the Holy Spirit. Give each child a balloon to blow up. When the balloons are filled, release them and watch them fly around the classroom. Being filled with the Holy Spirit helps us act; when we are “empty,” we are limp and lifeless.
2. No stone unturned. Write the word forgiveness on some stones and put them in a pile, words facedown. Ask students what “stones” (such as mean words) they have seen “thrown” at people. Hand a stone to each student, and have them turn them over to see the word forgiveness. Discuss the call to forgiveness. St. Stephen models for us.
Lessons from St. Stephen for our students and all of us? Be filled with the Holy Spirit. Speak the truth. And, in the face of persecution, follow his example of forgiveness as he followed the example of Jesus on the cross before him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Lynn Wehner is a Catholic writer, editor, speaker, and catechist who lives with her husband and their children in Connecticut.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, January 2019