In my early years as a young Jesuit, while eating the evening meal there would be reading from the Martyrology. Every day there were stories of holy women and men who were killed, slain, burned, torn limb-from-limb, and in many other ways showed their faith and love for God. This was the least tasty portion of the meal. It was rather difficult to indicate silently, your desire for the catsup while the blood of the faithful was pouring out of the reader's lips. I would wonder often if I could stay faithful to Christ if I were having my tongue cut out or my body placed in a metal coffin and placed on a roaring fire for me to be boiled into eternal life. “No,” I would avow quietly, “I would be out of there right now.” It really was a great way to limit one’s food intake and a great way to pray for greater faith.
Today we hear about a young man who believed, professed his faith and received his reward by being stoned into eternal life. He was the first to die for believing in Jesus and his death has an echo of how Jesus died. He asked that forgiveness be granted to those who are killing him.
Saul is standing by watching this and must have wondered why somebody would give up his life for such a new way of living. He himself, would live out his life for the same belief, but for now, he receives the recognition which the stoners give him and waits for the day the Lord Jesus will appear to him and recognize him as a newly chosen apostle.
This is the last Sunday before Pentecost, and so ends the Easter Weeks in which we have reflected upon our baptisms. We have prayed with the meanings of being baptized into Christ. We have heard how the community grew as members entered through the waters of rebirth. We have heard how being in Christ does not resolve all human struggles, but rather we are to embrace all the varying aspects of our own humanity and that of others.
We hear Jesus praying to His Father in today’s Gospel. It is the last few verses of His final instruction to His disciples. He is praying that they live faithfully their being one with Him, in Him. This is the final element of being baptized into Christ. He has been sent and His disciples will soon learn with the coming of the Holy Spirit, that they are also to be sent.
Now back to being a martyr, a true witness. It is not helpful for us to wonder under what circumstances would we deny our baptisms into Christ. Living them more spiritedly is more graceful and realistic. What is realistic is how we enter each day into our being sent into this world. When we are asked, “How’s it going,” we should interpret the “it” as our mission, our being sent. How does the “going” go? To be entered into Christ’ community, into being forgiven, into union with Him evolves eventually into our personal martyrdom of the every-day. We can read about the lions eating the Christians while we eat our hamburgers, but eating more deeply the moments of our being faithful to our moments is holiness and a great profession of just who we are.
He prays for His disciples and for us as well, that we might be one with Him through being baptized so that we would live in this world as women and men who cause the same wonder as Paul found watching Stephen. Sometimes we might think that an instant, a single dying for faith just might be a little easier than the martyrdom of the day-by-day dying we do in our families, communities, parishes and within our single selves.
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