Revelation 22:12-14, 19-17, 20
For me and my fellow Deacons, the story of St. Stephen, as told in the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, has a special place in our hearts. Stephen, whom the Church recognizes as the first martyr for the faith, is also the patron saint of deacons. He was one of those seven men, appointed by the Apostles to serve the Hellenist or Greek Christian widows. Tradition has it that from this group of seven, the office of Deacon arose. Very quickly, their service of charity becomes also a service to the word; they become proclaimers of the Good News about Jesus Christ. One of them was Stephen, and he was good at it, so effective at bringing new members into the Christian faith, into the community, that the Jerusalem temple authorities brought him to trial. Now it was during this trial that he had this vision of the glory of God. Now a trial lawyer of our time would warn Stephen to keep this experience to himself, to exercise his right to be silent. But like the prophet Jeremiah, this experience, this vision became like a fire burning within him. Stephen could not keep it in; he had to proclaim it, and so sacrificed his life for the faith.
Proclaiming the glory of God is a constant theme throughout the readings we have had during this Easter season from the Book of Revelation. Tradition has it that the Book was written by St. John the Evangelist, our patron saint. He wrote it while he was in exile on the island of Patmos, a Roman penal colony. The rest of the Christian communities were under severe persecution by Roman authorities. It was during this time of crisis that he received this vision of the glory of God, and tried to put that experience into words that could help the struggling communities remain faithful to Jesus.
To experience the glory of God, something so wonderful, so indescribable; I am sure we all think; that it cannot happen to us. But I would remind us of this phrase that is in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus says: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.” From the day of our baptism, we all have been made part of the Body of Christ; we are loved by Father just as much as He loves the Son. That is the glory of God, which is alive in each one of us.
But how many of us are aware of this wonderful, this awesome fact? Or are we like the seed from the parable of the sower; people who receive the Good News, but like thorns, we let the anxieties, the fears, the burdens of everyday life smother the experience of the glory of God. This is the challenge we face, the struggle we are called to enter into; to pull up those thorns that surround our hearts, let the glory of God blossom forth, let the wonder of it fill us with joy; let the beauty of it shine forth from each one of us for all the world to see.
Jesus, through His Gospel, shows us the way to accept the challenge, to enter into the struggle; if we only will take the time to read it, reflect on it, and live it. Jesus, through the Eucharist, gives Himself to us, to strengthen us for the challenge, for the struggle, if we only open ourselves to him and say, as St. John did: “Come, Lord Jesus!”