As he reflected on the life and death of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Pope Benedict said that reading sacred Scripture helps develop a prayerful relationship with God.
“Our prayer must be nourished by listening to the word of God, in communion with Jesus and his Church,” said the Pope May 2, noting how St. Stephen’s courage before those who condemned him to death was “clearly grounded in a prayerful re-reading of the Christ event in the light of God’s word.”
The Pope was addressing more than 20,000 pilgrims who gathered under sunny skies in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience.
Pope Benedict’s comments on the discourse of St. Stephen before the Sanhedrin continued a series of reflections on the topic of prayer.
“Stephen’s discourse before the court, the longest in the Acts of the Apostles, develops from this prophecy of Jesus, who is the new Temple, who inaugurates the new cult and replaces the ancient sacrifices with the offering of himself on the cross,” he said.
St. Stephen was accused of declaring that Jesus would destroy the Temple in Jerusalem and of changing the customs of Moses. The Pope explained that St. Stephen appealed to the Jewish Scriptures to prove how the laws of Moses were not subverted by Jesus but, instead, were being fulfilled.
“In his speech, Stephen begins with the call of Abraham, a pilgrim to the land indicated by God and which was only a promise,” the Pope said, charting how St. Stephen explained the roles of biblical figures like Joseph and Moses in the story of salvation.
“In these events narrated in sacred Scripture, which Stephen religiously listens to, God, who never tires of encountering man, despite often finding stubborn opposition, always emerges,” the Pope said.
“In all this, he sees a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, who, like the ancient Fathers, encounters obstacles, rejection, death.”
Therefore, the Pope recalled, Stephen depicts Jesus as “the Righteous One announced by the prophets” and as God himself, “present in such a unique and definitive way: Jesus is the true place of worship.”
At the conclusion of his trial, St. Stephen is given a vision of Jesus as “the Son of man standing at the right hand of God.”
“Our prayer, then,” said the Pope, “must be the contemplation of Jesus at the right hand of God, of Jesus as Lord of our, of my daily, existence.”
In Jesus and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “we, too, can turn to God with the trust and abandonment of children, who turn to a Father who loves them infinitely,” the Pope taught.
St. Stephen’s reward for his testimony was death by stoning, he noted, but “his very martyrdom is the fulfillment of his life and his message: He becomes one with Christ,” even to the point of asking God “not to hold this sin” against those killing him.
Pope Benedict finished by saying that St. Stephen’s intercession and example should teach people to “learn daily to unite prayer, contemplation of Christ and reflection on God’s word.”
“In this way, we will appreciate more deeply God’s saving plan and make Christ truly the Lord of our lives.”