Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles recalls the first martyrdom for the Church. The deacon Stephen is arrested by members of the Synagogue of Freedmen. These members were probably descendants of Jews carried off to Rome by Pompey in 63 BC where they were sold into slavery. Synagogue of Freedmen is like a catch name, like Catholics for a Free Choice. You would think they would be sensitive to the rights of other people because of their background. Stephen has a vision of the glory of God. Many saints who have reached spiritual perfection in this life are actually given the Beatific Vision in some degree. It seems to help them in their sanctity and their example to us on how to follow Christ particularly as they experience adversity. In Stephen’s vision, he sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Notice that Jesus is not regally siting at the right hand of God. Jesus is up from his throne looking down with tenderness and love on Stephen who is imitating Jesus’ Passion. This is the last thing his persecutors want to hear because they are filled with hate for this holy man. As they take their clothes off so they can throw the stones at him, Saul, the future St. Paul, watches them and is pleased with the lynching. Stephen makes two profound remarks as he is dying. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” indicating a total trust in his resurrection at the end of time and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” showing his love for his enemies and his hope that they will reform before they die. The very expressions of Jesus as he undergoes his passion. The Fathers of the Church have claimed that the fruit of St. Stephen’s death was the conversion of St. Paul. The Scriptures indicate that Stephen does not die, but rather “falls asleep.” Stephen’s brutal murder ends up in such a peaceful grace.
On April 22, Syrian Orthodox Metropolitan Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim and Greek-Orthodox Bishop Boulos al-Yazigi were kidnaped by unknown abductors during a humanitarian mission. At the time of this writing, there is no news on the fate of these bishops nor the certain identity of the kidnappers. Please pray for their safety or their eternal reward for dying for Christ.
I thank all those responsible for preparing our children for their First Communions. The children had a profound experience of the love of God and it is a credit to their teachers who made them sensitive to it.
This Wednesday our eight graders will be receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation. Please pray for them so that they too can have that same profound joy which our second graders had.
Yesterday Gino Esposito was ordained a deacon. We have a great team of deacons who do so many good works in our parish. I hope that Deacon Gino will have a productive and deeply spiritual future sowing the seeds of the faith in our parish.
I have made arrangements to have a parish mission next Lent from Sunday, March 30th to April 1st. Fr. Richard Ho Lung from the Missionaries of the Poor will conduct it. You might recall seeing him many times on EWTN. I hope you can plan to attend it. He will be assisted by another priest and a musician.
I would like to thank all the volunteers who have mowed our lawns. They are saving us lots of money. I hope that more of you might volunteer to help out. We have a lot of grounds to cover.
The project of fixing the 52 church pews is progressing. I am grateful to all those who have made earmarked contributions to pay for the $28,000 project. Please remember to write “Pews” on the memo on your check.
The 50/50 Raffle is progressing. We have sold about 300 of the 2000 tickets already. I do hope we can reach the 2000 mark. Remember there is at least a three in two thousand chance of winning!
You may have noticed that I put in an announcement about a pilgrimage that I am conducting in the fall. I have been leading similar pilgrimages for about twenty years with this family tour group. Deacon Tom is also leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I hope that many of you can take advantage of these trips to enrich your faith.
Fr. Vincent Euk