December 25, 2017

Why the Martyrdom of St. Stephen is Still Relevant Almost 2,000 Years Later

The Martyrdom of St. Stephen

The persecution of Christians is worse now than at any time in history. According to some estimates, every five minutes, a Christian is martyred for his faith. More and more, those who believe in Christ are endangered, singled out for hate and systematic genocide. Worldwide, Christians have experienced more persecution in the last five years than in the previous six hundred years combined. Those in the West are besieged by a militant secularism that is openly hostile to Christianity.

With the astonishing escalation in Christian persecution unseen seen since the 1st century, the heroic death of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, after nearly two millennia, speaks to the Church today. Art critic William Newton, writing for The Federalist, considers several interesting works of art that tell the story of St. Stephen, in "Saint Stephen’s Day Is A Moment To Reflect On Our Witness And Immortality". The works span much of the so called "Dark Ages", and reflect the various genres and styles of the period. They are remarkably united, however, in testifying to the courageous martyrdom and lasting witness of the Protomartyr:

"Although St. Stephen may have been the first martyr to suffer and die for his belief in Christ," Newton observes, "he was not nor will he be the last. Daily we are confronted with news stories of Christians all over the world being deprived of their rights, liberty, and their very lives, simply because they are Christians."

"St. Stephen’s life, then as now, is a wake-up call for those whose faith has become compromised or lukewarm, and a challenge to those who believe they can stamp out Christianity altogether, whether at the edge of a sword or by the stroke of a pen. His determination to persevere in his actions and to speak out in defense of his beliefs created a powerful example for others to follow." Newton continues, "His example appealed as much to the Christian artists living centuries ago who created these works of art as it does to those Christians living today who can take a moment to admire them, and reflect upon the story they tell."

A Widening Christian Genocide

Aid to the Church in Need is a papal charity of the Catholic Church, supporting the Catholic faithful and other Christians where they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. The organization recently published its report Persecuted and Forgotten? 2015-2017, detailing how Christians are oppressed for their Faith. The report explains how "an eradication of Christians, and other minorities, was – and still is – the specific and stated objective of extremist groups at work in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region, including Egypt." The report claims that the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they desperately needed as the genocide got underway and expanded.

It also observes, "At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that in much of the secular media there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians." The Christian communities in India, China, Ethiopia and Sudan have experienced greater persecution as well. Let us pray for all our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to live in true safety.

Prayer For Persecuted Christians

O God of all the nations, the One God who is and was and always will be, in your providence you willed that your Church be united to the suffering of your Son. Look with mercy on your servants who are persecuted for their faith in you. Grant them perseverance and courage to be worthy imitators of Christ. Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations to work for peace among all peoples. May your Spirit open conversion for those who contradict your will, that we may live in harmony. Give us the grace to be united in truth, and to always seek your will in our lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.
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Our persecuted brothers and sisters in faith face intimidation, torture and death for being disciples of Christ. We must assist them, if only in prayer. Our prayers are always efficacious no matter how dire the situation or the fact God does not always grant our petitions. To help visit ChristiansAtRisk.org and Nasarean.org.

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