Continuing with the series of catecheses on the Acts of the Apostles, in his address in Italian the Pope focused his meditation on the theme: “Stephen ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 7:55) between diakonia and martyrdom” (Biblical passage: from the Acts of the Apostles 6:8-10.15).
After summarizing his catechesis in several languages, the Holy Father expressed special greetings to groups of faithful present.
The General Audience ended with the singing of the Pater Noster and the Apostolic Blessing.
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The Holy Father’s Catechesis
Dear Brothers and Sisters, good morning!
We continue to follow a journey through the Book of the Acts of the Apostles: the journey of the Gospel in the world. Saint Luke shows with great realism both the fruitfulness of this journey as well as the emergence of some problems in the heart of the Christian community. Since the beginning, there have always been problems. How can one harmonize the differences that cohabit within it without oppositions and splits occurring? The community did not welcome only Jews, but also Greeks, namely, people from the diaspora, non-Jews, with their own culture and sensibility and with another religion. Today, we say “pagans.” And these were welcomed. This presence determined fragile and precarious equilibriums, and, in face of the difficulties “tares” appear,” and what is the worst tare that destroys a community? The tare of murmuring, the tare of gossip: the Greeks murmur because of the community’s lack of attention to their widows.
The Apostles had a process of discernment, which consisted in considering the difficulties thoroughly and, together, seeking solutions. They find a way out by subdividing various tasks for the serene growth of the whole ecclesial body and to avoid neglecting either the “course” of the Gospel or the care of the poorest members.
The Apostles are always more aware that their principal vocation is prayer and the preaching of the Word of God: to pray and proclaim the Gospel, and they resolve the question by instituting a nucleus of “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), who, after having received the imposition of hands, will be concerned with the service of the tables. They are Deacons that are created for this, for service. The Deacon in the Church isn’t a second class priest, he is something else; he isn’t for the altar, but for service. He is the custodian of service in the Church. When a Deacon likes to go to the altar too much, he is mistaken. This isn’t his way. This harmony between service to the Word and service to charity represents the leaven that makes the ecclesial body grow. And the Apostles create seven Deacons, and among the seven “Deacons,” Stephen and Philip are distinguished in a particular way. Stephen evangelizes with force and parrhesia, but his word meets with the most obstinate resistance. Not finding another way to make him desist, what do his adversaries do? They chose the most wretched solution to annihilate a human being: namely, calumny and false testimony. And you know that calumny always kills. This “diabolical cancer,” which is born of the will to destroy a person’s reputation, also attacks the rest of the ecclesial body and damages it gravely when, because of petty interests or to cover one’s own failures there is a coalition to smear someone.
Taken to the Sanhedrin and accused by false testimonies — they did the same with Jesus and they do the same with all the martyrs through false testimonies and calumnies — to defend himself, Stephen proclaims a rereading of sacred history centered in Christ. And the Easter of Jesus dead and risen is the key of the whole history of the Covenant. In face of this superabundance of the divine gift, Stephen courageously denounces the hypocrisy with which the prophets and Christ Himself were treated. And he reminds them of the history, saying: “Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered” (Acts 7:52). He doesn’t mince words, but speaks clearly, says the truth.
This caused the violent reactions of the listeners, and Stephen was condemned to death, condemned to stoning. He, however, manifests the true “fabric” of the disciple of Christ. He doesn’t seek ways to escape, he doesn’t appeal to personalities who could save him but puts his life in the Lord’s hands, and Stephen’s prayer is very beautiful, at that moment: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59) — and he dies as a son of God, forgiving: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
These words of Stephen teach us that it’s not good speeches that reveal our identity as children of God, but only the abandonment of our life in the Father’s hands, and forgiveness of the one who offends us, which makes the quality of our faith seen.
Today there are more martyrs than at the beginning of the life of the Church, and the martyrs are everywhere. The Church of today is rich in martyrs. She is watered by their blood, which is “seed of new Christians” (Tertullian, Apologetics, 50, 13) and ensures growth and fruitfulness to the People of God. The martyrs aren’t “holy picture <saints>,” but men and women of flesh and bone that — as Revelation says — “have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb” (7:14). They are the true winners.
Let us also ask the Lord that, looking at the martyrs of yesterday and of today, we may learn to live a full life, accepting the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and of conformation to Christ.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]
A warm welcome goes to the Italian-speaking pilgrims.
I’m happy to welcome the participants in the General Chapters of the Missionaries of the Holy Family, of the Sisters of Saint Paul of Chartres, of the Missionary Sisters of Saint Peter Claver. I exhort to open yourselves docilely to the Holy Spirit to discern new ways in living the respective foundation charisms. I greet the Brothers of the Holy Family, the Members of the Carmelite Family, and all those taking part in the course promoted by the “Rome International Seminar 2019.”
In addition, I greet the Parishes of Campocavallo di Osimo, with the Archbishop of Ancona, Monsignor Spina, and of Viggianello, the Italian Association of Victims of Violence, the Saint Francis Work for the Poor of Brescia, and the Zordan Groups of Valdagno and Noi-Huntington.
A particular thought goes to young people, the elderly, the sick and newlyweds.
Next Friday we will celebrate the Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, Founder and Patron of all Charity Associations. May the example of charity given to us by Saint Vincent de Paul lead all of you to a joyous and selfless service to the neediest, and open you to the duty of hospitality and to the gift of life.[Original text: Italian] [ZENIT’s translation by Virginia M. Forrester]