Today, I’m sitting in a perfectly empty cathedral. I got here after Mass was over, and I’m actually pretty happy. It’s just me and the saint statues, and so I’m getting in some private reflection.
I clearly have it better than poor Stephen, who in today’s first reading ticks off his opponents enough that they stone him to death. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the Holy Spirit,” he says to them, along with some other choice words.
Back at my computer, it’s time to visit dictionary.com. Stiff-necked: The first definition literally says, “having a stiff neck.” The protesters didn’t all sleep funny the night before; that can’t be what we’re looking for. The second definition hits the nail on the head: “haughty and obstinate.” There was a new way of looking at things, and they didn’t want to see it; they didn’t want to give up the old and try the new. But Stephen was really persistent and many saw him as blasphemous. That didn’t stop him from preaching the Gospel until his death. Feeling like you could use St. Stephen’s courage in your own life? Well, he is the patron saint of deacons, headaches, horses, coffin makers, and masons. If you have a horse or are experiencing a headache, Stephen is your man. But like all the saints, you are permitted to call on him to intervene anytime you want.
It is a beautiful sunny day in Cleveland, and the perfect time to get back to writing about the Mass. Today, I was at the Cathedral downtown, where there was a nice amount of people on hand. (Does sunshine coax more people out of their homes/offices and into church?)
Things are not so sunny for Stephen in today’s first reading. Stephen is preaching the word of Christ and speaking very eloquently, and the elders don’t like it. They bring their grievances to the Sanhedrin.
“This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law. For we have heard him claim that this Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us.”
Can we blame them for being upset? They had years and years of living their faith in a certain way, and then Jesus came along to say it was supposed to be different. And then they feel like they can relax because Jesus is no longer around, but then he’s got disciples coming out of the woodwork, talking about Christ and trying to convert people to Christianity.
Things don’t end well for Stephen. In fact, he is considered to be the first martyr of the Church. But it’s also said that Stephen was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he had to go out and talk about Jesus and Christianity. Can you imagine being that filled with the Holy Spirit? I have to ask myself, if I knew it was dangerous would I stand up and proclaim my faith or run as fast as my feet could carry me? I’d like to think the answer would be the former; luckily, I have yet to be put to the test.