I have often wondered how far I would go for my faith. If tomorrow it was illegal to have a Catholic blog, would I blog anyway? If in a year it was illegal to be Catholic, would I offer my house for Mass? If in a decade it was illegal to say the name of Jesus in public, would I stand up in the grocery store or the mall and shout out, "I believe in Jesus Christ, savior of the world."? If at some point in my life it was a capital crime to be Catholic, would I die for my faith? I would like to think that I have the courage to defend the Cross.
Today's first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles (7:51-8:1a), tells of the martyrdom of Stephen. St. Stephen proclaimed the truth about Jesus and the Jewish establishment in Jerusalem didn't like it. They did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the long awaited savior of Israel, and they thought Stephen was a blasphemer, so they stoned him.
Imagine someone throwing a large stone at you with the intent to kill you. OUCH! After one stone I might keep on proclaiming the Good News, but after the third or fourth I think I might be tempted to say, "Okay, stop, I was only kidding!" Stephen kept proclaiming the Risen Lord until his final breath.
The people of God need to learn from St. Stephen's example. Martyrs are not simply people from the early Church. Martyrdom occurs everyday; Christians die everyday on this planet because they will not renounce the name of Jesus Christ. A friend of my always reminds me to pray for persecuted Christians. Her husband's family fled from the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in 1915. Every night she prays for Christians fleeing and those who are persecuted.
Right now there is a Christian somewhere being executed because she has faith like St. Stephan.
Holy Martyrs, pray that I may have your courage.