Liturgical Colour : White or Red (Martyrs)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day all of us are called to remember the martyrdom of St. Stephen, the great first martyr of the Church, who in our first reading suffered greatly at the hands of the Sanhedrin members who opposed him and were angry that St. Stephen spoke in such a way about the truth of God that they became hostile to him and wanted to kill him, even though he really was speaking the truth. They stoned him to death for affirming what the Lord Jesus Himself had said, that He was the One sent by God and proclaimed by the prophets to be the Saviour of the whole world.
St. Stephen was only speaking the truth against the efforts of the Sanhedrin who tried very hard to silence him and accuse him, even putting forth false witnesses to implicate him with blasphemy, making false accusations and testimony that St. Stephen had blasphemed against God by his words and actions. This was exactly what they had done with the Lord Jesus as well on the night of His arrest, when they tried to blame Him with blasphemy and sentence Him to death. Thus, St. Stephen endured partly and shared in what the Lord had been suffering during His Passion and death.
St. Stephen devoted himself to the Lord, Whom in our Gospel passage today told everyone the truth about Himself, that He is the One true Bread, the Bread of Life by Whom everyone would receive life and the promise of eternal life. Those who share and partake in the Bread of Life will rejoice forever and have part in the inheritance and grace that God promised to His people, and many at that time were also skeptical or even outrightly refused to believe in the Lord.
At the start of today’s Gospel passage we heard how the Jews questioned and doubted the Lord Jesus on the authority of His teachings and miracles, and they wanted Him to show them miraculous deeds and powers even though it was likely that many among them had witnessed those miracles earlier on. They doubted and would not believe because they had hardened their hearts and minds, refusing to admit that what the Lord had done was indeed real and authentic. Instead, they rather placed their trust in their own flawed human sense and judgment.
It was this same attitude that many among the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees had adapted as they refused to listen to St. Stephen and his words of God’s wisdom and truth, and ended up killing him in cold blood. Yet, St. Stephen remained true to his faith and dedication to the very end, not worrying even about his own life and the suffering he had to face, because he put his trust in the very Christ rejected by his persecutors and all of his enemies.
As the Lord Jesus Himself said that He is truly the Bread of Life, the One Who gives life and strength to all who believe in Him, thus St. Stephen entrusted himself fully in this Bread of Life, in the promise of eternal joy and life surpassing all things that can be found in this world. The Lord has promised all of His faithful ones the new life and existence through Him, and that was why beginning with St. Stephen, so many of our holy and dedicated predecessors gave their all to the service of God, with some enduring suffering, persecution and even martyrdom for their faith.
What is the significance of this truth for us, brothers and sisters in Christ? It is a reminder that to be Christians it means that we are the bearers of Christ’s truth and we are also witnesses of His resurrection. We have received the same Holy Spirit as St. Stephen had, and we have been called to faithfully live our lives so that our every actions, our every words and deeds truly proclaim the glory of God and show His truth and salvation to all the peoples around us.
But in order to do so, we need to anchor ourselves firmly in faith, in the Lord Jesus, our Bread of Life, the One Who can sustain us through our journey of faith and the One through Whom we will be saved and brought into the promised glorious existence together with Him. Many of us have not yet been truly faithful in our lives and we have often allowed our many worldly concerns and the many temptations in life to affect us and to prevent us from finding our way towards the Lord.
Are we then able to overcome these temptations and distractions in life? Are we able to put our trust firmly in the Lord from now on? Let us all not worry about our lives and how we are to live our lives but instead learn to be more faithful to God, seeking to allow God to guide us in our lives that day by day we may draw ever closer to Him and be more attuned to His truth. Let us all grow ever stronger in faith and dedication, that even though we know that sufferings and challenges may be in our path, with Christ everything is possible for us.
Today we also celebrate the feast of two great saints whose lives may be great inspiration for us on how we should continue living our lives from now on. First of all, St. Peter Chanel was a renowned priest and also a martyr of the Church who was remembered for his piety and his hard work as a missionary for many years in serving the people of God and proclaiming the faith in far-off lands. St. Peter Chanel joined the priesthood and was credited for a successful rejuvenation of a parish that his bishop had entrusted to him as parish priest for three years long.
When St. Peter Chanel was finally allowed to embark on his missionary journey, he travelled to the most distant parts of the world, travelling to the islands in the Southern Pacific Ocean, spreading the Good News to the people there, until he finally arrived at Futuna where he was eventually martyred after a brief opportunity of evangelisation to the point that he was even successful in persuading the son of the local king to be baptised. This made the king angry and ordered the execution of the missionaries including that of St. Peter Chanel.
St. Peter Chanel’s courage allowed him to persevere through and he entrusted himself in the Lord so completely that he did what he could to spread the truth and salvation of God to many people even when he had to suffer and endure rejection. This is similar to what St. Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, commonly known as St. Louis de Monfort, had experienced throughout his ministry to the people of God.
Although St. Louis de Montfort did not endure martyrdom unlike St. Stephen and St. Peter Chanel, but he also had to endure difficulties and challenges from some people who disliked him, as it was told that his courageous and fiery sermons while appreciated by many, but it enraged some of the community who refused to listen to him and became angry at his words, much like how St. Stephen was hated, and St. Louis de Montfort was even poisoned because of this before, though he survived through that.
Through St. Louis de Montfort’s effort and his dedication, his many years of service, many people also came to know God and sought to be reconciled with the Lord and the Church. He was also instrumental in the establishment of several congregations, inspiring quite a lot of people who wanted to follow his examples in serving the Lord. He was also influential in the improvement of Christian education and the formation of the people of God.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us reflect on all these, and think of how we can be better Christians by devoting more of our time and effort, to proclaim God’s truth and love through our own lives, by our own actions and deeds. Let us all love one another, and let us spend our lives to glorify God and to be inspirations to each other that we may be ever more willing to walk in the path that God has shown us.
May the Lord, our Bread of Life, be with us always and guide us, that we may be courageous like St. Stephen, be missionary like St. Peter Chanel and be loving and dedicated like St. Louis de Montfort. May God bless our efforts and our many good endeavours, and may He be with us throughout this journey of faith. Amen.