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Even Stephen

Today is the feast of St. Stephen Protomartyr (see Acts 6-7). St. Augustine was deeply devoted to him and rejoiced in the translation of Stephen’s relics to Africa. Today, he urges us,

We should think of Stephen, called by a Greek name meaning “crown,” the first after the Lord’s resurrection to be crowned with martyrdom. We should think also of those persecutors who turned into so many thousands of believers when the Holy Spirit came.

And elsewhere he spells out the idea further, indicating how we might follow after the example of Stephen:

[Stephen] showed his love for his murderers, in that he died for them … That is the perfection of love. Love is perfect in him whom it makes ready to die for his brothers; but it is never perfect as soon as it is born. It is born that it may be perfected. Born, it is nourished: nourished, it is strengthened: strengthened, it is made perfect. And when it has reached perfection, how does it speak? “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. My desire was to be set free and to be with Christ; for that is by far the best. But to abide in the flesh is needful for your sake” (Phil 1:21-24). He was willing to live for their sakes, for whom he was ready to die.