Audience: Prayer and the strength to face persecution

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Prayerful meditation on Sacred Scripture in communion with Jesus and his Church can help us face all of life’s difficulties and even persecution, just like St Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Continuing his series of lessons on prayer in the Acts of the Apostles, Pope Benedict XVI focused his Wednesday audience catechesis on Acts Chapter 6, Stephens discourse before the Sanhedrin, delivered before his death.

Forty thousand people thronged St Peter’s Square, and speaking to English pilgrims the Pope noted: “Stephen’s words are clearly grounded in a prayerful re-reading of the Christ event in the light of God’s word”.

In comments in Italian, Pope Benedict recalled how Stephen was "one of the seven chosen for the service of charity". Accused of saying that Jesus would destroy the Temple and the customs handed down by Moses, Stephen responds by presenting Jesus as the Righteous One proclaimed by the prophets, in whom God has become present to humanity in a unique and definitive way”.

"Stephen’s discourse before the court, the longest of the Acts of the Apostles develops from this prophecy of Jesus, who is the new temple, who inaugurates the new cult and replaces the ancient sacrifices with the offering of himself on Cross. Stephen wants to show how unfounded the accusation made against him of having subverted the law of Moses and illustrates his vision of the history of salvation, the covenant between God and man. He thus re-reads the biblical narrative, the itinerary contained in the Holy Scripture, to show that it leads to the "place" the ultimate presence of God, which is Jesus Christ, especially His Passion, Death and Resurrection. In this perspective, Stephen also reads his being a disciple of Jesus, following him to martyrdom. "

Stephen’s meditation on Sacred Scripture helps him understand his present reality. "In his speech Stephen begins with the call of Abraham, a pilgrim to the land indicated by God and which was only a promise; he then passes to Joseph sold by his brothers, but assisted and freed by God, to arrive at Moses, who becomes an instrument of God to free his people, but who also on several occasions encounters the rejection of his own people. In these events narrated in Sacred Scripture, which Stephen religiously listens to, God, who never tires of encountering man despite often finding stubborn opposition, always emerges. "

"In all this he sees a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, who - like the ancient Fathers - encounters obstacles, rejection, death." In his meditation on the action of God in salvation history, Stephen highlights the perennial temptation to reject God and his action and says that "Jesus is the Righteous One announced by the prophets; in Jesus, God himself is present in such a unique and definitive way: Jesus is the true place of worship. "

Stephen does not deny the importance of the temple, "but stresses that God does not dwell in houses made by human hands. The new temple in which God dwells is his Son, who took on human flesh, it is the humanity of Christ, the Risen One who gathers the people and unites them in the Sacrament of his Body and his Blood. "

"The life and discourse of Stephen is suddenly interrupted by his stoning, but his very martyrdom is the fulfillment of his life and his message: he becomes one with Christ." Before he died, he asks for Jesus to receive his spirit, and like Jesus asks God "not to hold this sin" against those who stoned him.
St. Stephen drew the strength to face his persecutors to the point of the gift of himself "from his relationship with God" and "meditation on the history of salvation, from seeing the action of God, which in Jesus Christ came to the summit. " So "our prayer must be nourished by listening to the Word of God."

He also "sees foreshadowed, in the history of the relationship of love between God and man, the figure and mission of Jesus He - the Son of God - is a temple" not made with human hands " where the presence of God the Father came so close as to take on our flesh to bring us to God, to open up the gates of Heaven to us. Our prayer, then, must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as Lord of our, of my daily, existence. In him, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can turn to God with the trust and abandonment of children who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely ".

Pope Benedict concluded: “As the Son of God made man, Jesus is himself the true temple of God in the world; by his death for our sins and his rising to new life, he has now become the definitive “place” where true worship is offered to God. Stephen’s witness to Christ, nourished by prayer, culminates in his martyrdom. By his intercession and example may we learn daily to unite prayer, contemplation of Christ and reflection on God’s word. In this way we will appreciate more deeply God’s saving plan, and make Christ truly the Lord of our lives”.

"I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, including those from England, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Nigeria, Australia, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Canada and the United States. I offer a cordial welcome to the delegation from the Christian Council of Norway and to the ecumenical groups from Sweden. I also thank the traditional choir from Indonesia for their song. Upon you and your families I cordially invoke God’s abundant blessings".
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