As we cope with coronavirus in the UK, we think of our sisters and brothers in developing countries who are facing this pandemic with fragile health systems, some of which have almost no intensive care beds or ventilators.
Food prices have already risen with borders closing, the poorest are losing their jobs and income with wholesale shutdowns. Furthermore, inadequate healthcare, lack of access to washing facilities and limited ability to social distance will result in loss of life on an intolerable scale. The likely impact will be devastating.
We are one global family. In order to continue protecting and improving the lives of those in poor communities, your prayers, gifts and voices are needed now more than ever. Please visit cafod.org.uk/coronavirus to find out ways you can give, act and pray in response to this crisis.
Martyrdom is the greatest sign of Christian unity: men and women united in their commitment to laying down their lives for their Saviour. Regardless of denomination, Stephen holds pride of place, as first among equals.
But martyrdom is not only for the saints. As St Clement of Alexandria explained, “Martyrdom means bearing witness to God. Every soul that seeks in pureness of heart to know God and obeys the commandments of God is a martyr, bearing witness by life or words. In fact, even if it is not a matter of shedding blood, the soul is pouring out its faith because it is by faith that the soul will be separated from the body before a person dies."
Whatever our situation in life, we are called – like Stephen, our brother in faith – to be witnesses to the gospel of life. Each of us is called to die to ourselves and to live for God. In dying to ourselves we find life and become witness to God’s love, mercy and compassion.
Lord Jesus Christ, great me a sure grasp of the truth that in dying to self and living for you I may discover the mystery and meaning of life.
Events began to unfold around Stephen which mirrored the Lord’s Passion and death; false accusations, charges of blasphemy and being hauled before the Sanhedrin. Like Christ in life, like Christ in death, Stephen becomes the first martyr. And his witness of martyrdom speaks to every generation of believers, until the end of time.
Luke highlights how Stephen was a man full of grace, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. He was God-centred, not self-centred. Where did this grace and power come from?
Some of the answer can be found in the opening verses of Chapter 6: Stephen was selected by members of his community because of his apparent virtues and was presented, along with six others for the blessing of the apostles.
Luke informs us that the apostles “prayed and laid their hands upon them” (v. 6). This was the customary manner in the early Church by which people were invested with the Holy Spirit to carry out special assignments and work. This must have been the source of Stephen’s Spirit-filled life.
We too can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit we labour in vain as we seek to serve the Lord by the power of our own strength and abilities. Don’t be afraid to seek out the blessing of being prayed over to receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit.
Bishops, priests and deacons can make this prayer, but so can fellow believers – when two or three gather in Jesus’s name.
We are called to be Spirit-filled Christians, men and women who live not for ourselves but for others, not by our own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, fill me with your Spirit; fill me with your joy, hope and love that I many be an authentic witness of the Gospel.
In today’s reading, Luke, pulling no punches, tells us in no uncertain terms that the High Priest and the Sadducees were filled with jealousy, which drove them to persecute Peter and John. They had them jailed, but neither the literal prison nor the chains of jealousy could bind the intrepid apostles.
The Holy Spirit rides roughshod over the pettiness of human nature. He has only one thing in mind: the proclamation of the gospel message. The angel commands, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” (v. 20).
It is the message of new life that sets us all free – from jealousy and from all sin which seeks to entrap us and to reduce our humanity.
Lord, I repent of the times that I have felt jealous or envious of others. Ground me in your love, root me in your mercy, secure me in your deep and abiding presence, that I may overcome such thoughts which rob me of my humanity and my vocation.
For the Sadducees life after death was a revolutionary and subversive idea that threatened their position. Their difficulty was that, “People who believe that their God is about to make a new world, and that those who die in loyalty to him in the meantime will rise again and share gloriously in it, are far more likely to lose respect for a wealthy aristocracy than people who think that this life, this world and this age are the only ones there will ever be . . .” (Tom Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God).
The Sadducees held much power; their interest was not in the word of God, but in the maintenance of the status quo, because this was of most benefit to them. The Sadducees wanted to preserve their own interests.
To guard against the same temptation, we can harness the power of prayer. Perfect prayer is all love. The key to protecting ourselves from becoming like the Sadducees is to avoid self-interest in the first place, to focus our attention on love.
Oh my God, I love you above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because you are all good and worthy of all my love. I seek to love my neighbour as myself for the love of you. I forgive all who have injured me and I ask pardon for all whom I have injured. Amen.
The Spirit was Jesus’s greatest gift to us, but we don’t rely on or turn to the Spirit enough in our lives.
Brother Lawrence said, "Those who have received the gale of the Holy Spirit go forward even in sleep.” The Holy Spirit is God’s love poured into our hearts, and filled to overflowing with that love, like the apostles we are sent out to be bold and confident witnesses to the truth of the gospel.
Today, give thanks and praise to God for the many gifts that He has given us, but particularly the gift of rising from the dead and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
"A gift is freely given, and expects no return. its reason is love. What is first given is love; that is the first gift. The Holy Ghost comes forth as the substance of love, and Gift is his proper name.” (St Thomas Aquinas)
Jesus’s destiny reaches its climax: Jesus was born to die and his hour is come. Good Friday is a holy moment.
The human race had strayed far from God’s eternal purpose. We had drunk deeply of the cup of rebellion and had sung into all manner of sin. Sick and wounded, we wandered in darkness, living aimless and futile lives.
Our preference is for self-rule and independence from God. War, hatred, greed and pride dominate the landscape of human history.
God’s remedy is his Son; his solution, the cross. The cross meets our deepest need – the need to be reconciled to be put right with God.
Our sin, our rebellion, hostility and folly are fully embraced by the cross. The cross becomes for us the source of our eternal salvation. Jesus’s cross releases us from the grip of death, restoring our dignity. Heaven is re-opened – the cross becomes the ladder by which we once again enter our heavenly home.
Rejoice! The tree of life transforms the tree of death, reversing the tragedy of the Fall. Our original wound is healed – we are redeemed, restored, reinstated as children of the Father.
Through the cross, death died and Adam came back to life. Through the cross, each apostle attained glory, each martyr obtained a crown, each saint achieved sanctity. Through the cross, we are clothed with Christ, discarding the old man. Through the cross, we sheep of Christ are reunited in the same flock and destined for the heavenly feast. (St Theodore the Studite).
The death of Jesus was the most significant, momentous, important and wonderful death in human history. Wonderful because through it he redeemed the world.
When you read the Passion today you could ask the Spirit to help you rejoice and glory in the events that are unfolding. The Spirit leads us to see the instrument of torture, this sign of primitive brutality, as the sign of life.
The death of Jesus on the cross is not merely an historic event: it is made real and present to us when we celebrate the Eucharist. But there is also a way in which the Spirit wants to make it real and present to us in our lives.
In other words, we can hope to understand it more deeply, enter into its mystery in a new way, grasp its significance and meaning more actively in our lives. The key is to want this, desiring it and praying for it.
In this way we can come to understand that the cross is a message with power: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
Lord Jesus, you paid the price for our sin. Teach me this week to glory in the cross and to bow down before you, the Crucified and Risen Lord.
St Athanasius put it well when all those centuries ago he said: “He became what we are that he might make us what he is."
Today, give praise and thanks to God for believing that Jesus of Nazareth is God. Rejoice and praise God that the light of faith has been poured into your heart and mind so that you can freely and joyfully accept God’s ultimate mystery and final revelation.
”It is safer to teach that the incarnation was ordained by God as a remedy for sin, and that if no sin had come the incarnation would not have taken place. Nevertheless, God’s power should not be circumscribed: he might have become incarnate even sin had never entered our world.” St Thomas Aquinas.