As we near the end of the Easter Season we hear with a reading describing the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. His story is one that shows the paradox of suffering and embracing the Cross of Christ as a way that leads to the glory of Easter. He is considered the first of the martyrs in the young Christian Community. He had youth, zeal and a deep faith. He was so powerfully connected with God that this passage begins by describing him as being, “filled by the Holy Spirit.” Being filled with the Holy Spirit is to experience God in such a deep way that it transforms the entire person. Stephen, “saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” This vision is echoed years later in the Book of Revelation where we hear of the, “new Heaven and new earth.” As he neared death he called out; “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.” And “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He was so filled with the Holy Spirit that he prayed as Jesus did on the cross. The tragedy of Stephen’s death was an inspiration to the early Christians. They hoped to be like Stephen if they should face persecution and even death. It was no doubt a memory that the young Saul carried with him. While his initial zeal was directed in preserving the Jewish Faith from this new way, when he had his personal encounter with Jesus he was filled with the Holy Spirit and experienced a deep spiritual transformation. This is a transformation that occurs when one truly accepts Jesus Christ into one’s life and becomes filled with the Holy Spirit.
It is possible for each of us to experience the amazing transformation that comes with receiving the Holy Spirit. For most of us It began when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our Lord on the day of our Baptism. If we were Baptized as infants or children our parents and God parents spoke on our behalf and we became sons and daughters of God. It is a relationship that should lead us to experience God as a father who loves us so much he gave his son, Jesus, for us so that we can ultimately go to his house for eternity. The Holy Spirit is given to us to provide the gifts we need to live our lives faithfully and fruitfully in God’s love. This is an experience of the unity of the Holy Trinity in our lives.
Jesus spoke of the unity, the oneness of the Trinity, at the Last Supper and tells the Apostles that his prayer is that his followers may be one. This prayer for unity is two-fold; unity with God and unity with one another. This is the unity we see in the reading about Stephen. He was truly united with God with the Christian Community who were edified by his love in laying down his life for Christ. This beautiful prayer of Jesus for unity is one for us to reflect on as we near the end of the Easter Season and prepare for Pentecost and Trinity Sundays. As we prepare for these next two Sundays let us do so with hearts open to not only recognizing the Gifts of the Holy Spirit present in the church and in each one of us, and also of yielding more to these gifts in our lives. May the Holy Spirit unite us more closely to God, and to one another. Filled with the Holy Spirit may we be blessed with seeing the glory of God.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.
Image: Saint Stephen by Carlo Crivelli