Elise Harris/CNA/EWTN News
VATICAN CITY — On Tuesday Pope Francis said there is a strong link between the death of St. Stephen, the Church’s first martyr, and the birth of Christ, who came to offer message that is often uncomfortable and calls us to convert.
“Jesus’ message is uncomfortable and inconvenient for us, because it challenges worldly religious power and provokes consciences,” the Pope said Dec. 26, adding that after his coming, “it’s necessary to convert, to change mentality, to renounce thinking like before ... to convert.”
Speaking to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square during his Angelus address for the feast of St. Stephen, which is celebrated the day after Christmas, the Pope noted how it might seem like there is no relation between Jesus’ birth and Stephen’s death, however, “there is a strong link.”
When he preached, Stephen put the leaders of the people “into crisis,” Francis said, because “he firmly believed and professed the new presence of God among men.”
In telling the leaders at the time that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses handed down to them, Stephen understood that “the true temple of God is now Jesus, eternal Word come to live in our midst, [who] became like us in all things, apart from sin.”
Despite the accusation that he was preaching the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem and therefore facing death, Stephen stayed “anchored” in the message of Jesus until his last breath, with his final prayers being “Lord Jesus, welcome my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
These two prayers, Pope Francis said, are “a faithful echo” of those said by Jesus on the cross, when he prays: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” and “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
“These words of Stephen were only possible because the Son of God came to earth and died and rose for us,” he said, adding that before this happened, “they were humanly impossible expressions.”
The Pope then noted that the Risen Christ is the only mediator between God and man, and he intercedes for us not just at our death, as he did for St. Stephen, but in every moment of our lives.
“Without him, we can do nothing,” Francis said, explaining that as our mediator, Jesus reconciles us not only with God the Father, but also with each other.
“[Jesus] is the font of love, which opens us to communion with brothers, to love each other, removing every conflict and resentment,” he said, adding that “resentments are an ugly thing, they do so much harm and they do us so much harm!”
This, he said, is the miracle of Jesus: that he removes these resentments and “makes it so that we love each other.”
Francis closed his address asking that Jesus, who was born for each of us, would help us to assume “this dual attitude of trust in the Father and love of neighbor; it is an attitude that transforms life and makes it more beautiful and more fruitful.”
He also prayed that Mary would help us to welcome Jesus as the Lord of our lives and “to become his courageous witnesses, ready to personally pay the price of fidelity to the Gospel.”
After leading pilgrims in the traditional Angelus prayer, the Pope offered a word of thanks for all the well-wishes he has received in recent weeks.
“I express to everyone my gratitude, especially for the gift of prayer. Thank you so much!” he said, adding that “the Lord will reward your generosity!”