Pope Francis on Wednesday reflected on the heroic witness of Saint Stephen, the first martyr, and its transformative impact on the hearts of Christians.
The pontiff highlighted the parallels between Saint Stephen and Saul, the persecutor-turned-Apostle Paul, illustrating how the Christian witness has the power to change hearts and work miracles of faith.
In his address, Pope Francis commended Saint Stephen for his integrity, dedicated service to the poor, and unwavering courage in bearing witness to Jesus, even in the face of merciless persecution that ultimately led to his death at the hands of Saul’s followers.
The Pope drew attention to the seemingly stark division between Saul, a hardline Pharisee, and Stephen, the heroic Christian believer condemned to death.
However, he emphasized the hidden bond between the two, explaining that through Stephen’s witness, the Lord was preparing Saul’s heart for a profound conversion.
“While Stephen offers the ultimate sacrifice as a martyr, his prayers, faith, and especially the forgiveness he offers as he is dying plant a hidden seed in Saul that will eventually transform his heart of stone into a heart of flesh,” said Pope Francis.
Pope Francis extended his reflections to contemporary times, acknowledging the modern-day martyrs who face persecution and offer the ultimate sacrifice for their faith.
He paid tribute to those who, through suffering and death, bear witness to Jesus and the Gospel, emphasizing that the seed of their sacrifices germinates and bears fruit, working miracles that change hearts and save lives.
Pope Francis said, “Just as Saint Stephen’s witness transformed Saul’s heart, modern-day martyrs continue to inspire and bring about miracles of faith. Their sacrifices, though seemingly ending in death, plant seeds that grow into powerful testimonies of God’s grace.”
The Pope urged Christians to reflect on the plight of those who still suffer and die for their faith today. He emphasized the importance of prayer for these persecuted individuals, who endure ridicule and prejudice for remaining faithful to the Gospel in the face of adversity.
Pope Francis challenged the faithful to examine their commitment to witnessing the Gospel with consistency, humility, and confidence.
Addressing the uncertainty that often accompanies faithful actions, he questioned whether believers still maintain their faith even when immediate results are not apparent.
Quoting Scripture, the Pope said, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)