"They cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together"

"But [Stephen], filled with the holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, 'Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.' 
But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. 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 7:55-60)
In today's first reading for the Third Tuesday of Easter, we have the martyrdom of St. Stephen the Proto-martyr. He was the first among the Lord's disciples to be attacked and killed for his proclamation of the Gospel.

I want to reflect today on an important fact about Stephen's martyrdom:

It was not carried out by pagans or unbelievers. It was carried out by the most respected and religious members of his society, the very people that stood in public as representatives of both God and the people. Even Saul, also known as Paul, who had studied at the feet of the great Rabbi Gamaliel, was complicit.

There is no one more dangerous than misguidedly dogmatic religious people.

We see it in our own day, as well. Religious leaders and self-proclaimed 'great Christians' who are willing to torture the message of the Gospel to fit their own ideologies and pre-conceptions. People who slander the God of Love by associating His Name with hatred, violence and xenophobia among other things.

Are we, like Saul, inadvertently among them?

Are we so religious that we no longer know God? It seems like a paradox, but it is a reality of the spiritual life: we can become so wrapped up in the mantle of religion that we lose the path to God. We can take our eyes off of the true goal of our pilgrimage.

Even St. Paul was guilty at one point in his journey.

St. Stephen, however, kept his eyes focused on the one thing that mattered, and his vision remained clear: "Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

Are you willing, like Stephen, to preach the true Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed by the Church even if your chosen political party's candidates or the seemingly religious talking heads on your favorite talk radio program disagree? Are you willing to trust the historical successors of the Apostles more than the modern successors of the Sanhedrin?

It is a question we all have to face. And like, St. Paul, with courage and grace we can face it. We can change. We can repent.

St. Stephen Proto-martyr, pray for us that we have the courage to keep our eyes fixed on the Gospel!

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