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the first martyr (entered heaven in 34)
I was sad to receive your note yesterday. It must make your heart sore to see your dad stay at home when everyone else goes to Mass. But you mustn’t let it discourage your own pursuit of holiness. No heart is so hard that the fervent prayers and sincere sacrifices of a loving Christian won’t soften it. As you bear this heavy cross, stay close to today’s saint. In fact, he could be an inspiring example to you, a good friend of your spirit. You remember his story, I am sure. It is found right in the book of Acts, Chapter 7. He was that courageous deacon falsely accused by jealous leaders of the Jewish congregations in Jerusalem and brought before the Sanhedrin (the governing court of the Jewish people). He gave a fiery and brilliant defense of the true faith, and witnessed boldly with the word, with his bearing, and, tragically but gloriously, with his very life, for his enemies were so enraged that they executed him as a blasphemer, hurling stones at him until he died. During the execution, a young member of the Jewish elite, Saul, stood by guarding the cloaks of the murderers. He didn’t join in throwing stones, but he watched and participated nonetheless, and so he heard Stephen beg forgiveness for the executioners with his dying breath.
Saul didn’t become Paul, the great Apostle of the Gentiles, right away; it would take our Lord’s appearance to him on the road to Damascus to make that happen. But I can’t imagine that St Stephen’s sacrifice had nothing to do with Paul’s conversion, and with his impact on the history of the Church and the world. Do you think Paul would have forgotten that experience? I don’t. And that’s why I say that St Stephen can serve as a kind of model and patron for you as you bear the cross of your dad’s anti-Church sentiment. Your own fidelity to Jesus in the midst of his denunciations is a kind of living martyrdom, and if you persevere, I am sure that our Lord will see fit to give your dad his own Damascus road experience. Count on my prayers.
Your loving uncle, Eddy