I mentioned yesterday that St. Stephen was the first martyr. Martyr comes from the Greek, meaning “witness.” The typical sense of this word refers to those put to death because of their faith and adherence to Jesus Christ, and we see this on display in today's first reading from the Act of the Apostles (7:51-8:1) as Stephen is stoned to death after his preaching of Christ. There is another sense in which Stephen witnessed to Jesus. As he is being stoned, Stephen's words echo those of Christ's words on the cross: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit...Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” On the cross, Jesus commended His soul to the Father and asked forgiveness for his tormentors; during his stoning, Stephen does the same.
It's also worth noting the power of forgiveness. Saul was the mastermind of the persecution of Stephen, and perhaps it was Stephen's act of incredible forgiveness that opened the door to Saul's conversion. Forgiveness has the capacity to powerfully affect the one forgiving and the one forgiven. As we still live in a socially distanced world for now, here is our opportunity to witness to Christ today: to forgive those who have wronged and hurt us. May we look to St. Stephen and ask his intercession so that God may give us the healing, courage, and strength to forgive.