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St. Stephen and the Stones of Grace, Love and Forgiveness

Updated: Apr 11

by Joel V. Ocampo


Every year on December 26, the Church celebrates the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first martyr; but because December 26, 2021 falls on Sunday, this year, St. Stephen will give way for the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. As we celebrate this Feast of the Holy Family, let us learn three things from them and from St. Stephen so that grace, love, and forgiveness will overflow in the family.



During the time of St. Stephen, the family of God – the number of disciples continued to grow. Thus, the Twelve Apostles called together the community of the disciples and appointed seven deacons. One of these deacons was Stephen (cf. Acts 6:1-6).


Stephen was described by the Scriptures as “a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). He was filled with grace and power, and was working great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). Such was his wondrous deeds that “certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke” (Acts 6:9-10). The persecution of Stephen ended up in his stoning to death, consented by a man a young man named Saul (Acts 7:54-60).


THE STONE OF GRACE

Life may sometimes throw stones to our families: stones of trials, difficulties, misunderstanding, and many more. The good news is, God send these stones not to punish us, but in order for us to become strong, with a solid foundation. In ancient times, because of the lack of construction equipment and materials, people use all kinds of stones, big or small to build walls, houses, roads, etc. Now, if life throw stones on us and our family, let us collect these stones, put them together, and build a strong house with a strong foundation.


Similarly, St. Stephen experienced stoning; not just with literal stones but with stones of false accusation, hatred, violence, and rejection. However, because he was filled with the stone of grace, with faith in God as a solid foundation, he completely trusted in God until his last breath. Even the Holy Family, experienced the stone of rejection when Jesus is about to be born. However, the stone of grace from heaven was even stronger than the stone of rejection.


THE STONE OF LOVE

When the world throws the stones of misunderstanding and hatred on us, we throw the stone of love back to it. In Filipino we have this saying, “Kapag binato ka ng bato, batuhin mo ng tinapay.” (When somebody threw stones at you, throw bread at them.) What bread are we going to throw to them? The Bread of the Eucharist: Jesus Himself. Whenever we experience misunderstanding, be like Jesus, be understanding. When we experience hatred, be like Jesus, be an instrument of love. Let us throw the positive attitude of Jesus, the Bread of the Eucharist.


When St. Stephen was chosen as a deacon, one of his primary roles was to look after the Table of the Lord. Learning from the Table of the Eucharist, St. Stephen threw the Bread of Life to those who misunderstood and hated him. Such was his love for them that “all those who sat in the Sanhedrin looked intently at him and saw that his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).


THE STONE OF FORGIVENESS

After St. Stephen’s discourses about the grace, love, and mercy of God working in different generations, those who heard him were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him (Acts 7:54). They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 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 7:58-60). Like our Lord Jesus before dying on the cross (Lk. 23: 34), St. Stephen also prayed for his persecutors. St. Stephen lived the teaching of the Lord that says, “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). His prayer, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” led to the conversion of Saul (Acts 9:1-19), who later became St. Paul.


Similarly, if we allow the stones of hardness of heart, envy, anger, and many more to rule in the family, it will break relationships; but if we throw the stone of forgiveness and mercy, the family will remain united and strong.


MORE STONES

St. Paul, the fruit of the stone of forgiveness of St. Stephen gives us advice in the Second Reading in today’s Liturgy. He exhorts us to use more “stones” from heaven. He says, “Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15).


May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, accompanied by the prayers of St. Stephen, teach us to use the stones of grace, love and forgiveness so that our family and society may overcome the stones of trials, difficulties, misunderstanding, hatred, apathy, and many more.


PRAYER TO THE HOLY FAMILY

by Pope Francis


Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

in you we contemplate

the splendor of true love,

to you we turn with trust.


Holy Family of Nazareth,

grant that our families too

may be places of communion and prayer,

authentic schools of the Gospel

and small domestic Churches.


Holy Family of Nazareth,

may families never again

experience violence, rejection and division:

may all who have been hurt or scandalized

find ready comfort and healing.


Holy Family of Nazareth,

may the approaching Synod of Bishops

make us once more mindful

of the sacredness and inviolability of the family,

and its beauty in God’s plan.


Jesus, Mary and Joseph,

graciously hear our prayer.



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