December 26, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Saint Stephen, Martyr
Reading (Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:17-22)
In the Gospel reading this morning, Our Lord tells us that there are people who will hand Christian people over to the judges and they will be tried, and they will have to give witness before the judges and before the pagans on behalf of the Lord. And He tells us that at that time we do not have to worry about our defense: He will give us the words through the Holy Spirit so that we will be able to say what He wants us to say. Again, the problem we will run into is that we assume if the Lord is going to be speaking in us and through us it will be something that will be perfect – and it will. He tells us that whatever is said at that point nobody is going to be able to take exception to. Yet at the same time, He then goes on to tell us that brother will hand over brother to death and the father his child, children will rise up against their parents and have them put to death.
Now one would think if we have the words of the Holy Spirit and if we have the Lord working within us, that whatever words we are going to use would be so persuasive that people would recognize the truth and convert – until we look and see what Saint Stephen did. He had the Holy Spirit clearly at work within Him and we are told that all these people who undertook to engage him in debate could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. And, because of this, it says they were infuriated against him. They held their ears and they descended upon him together, threw him out of the city, and stoned him to death. What he spoke was the truth; he spoke under the influence of the Holy Spirit. He gave witness to Jesus and they did not want to hear it.
Anybody who does want to hear the truth, when you speak it they will have their hearts open. They will hear what you say and they will be converted. But somebody who does not want the truth – not just somebody who happens to be living in error but does not know because they do not know what the truth is – but if there is somebody who just plain and simply does not want to hear the truth, it does not matter what you say; they have rejected the Holy Spirit. Even though they claim that they want the truth and they want the Holy Spirit, the fact of the matter is they have rejected the Holy Spirit because they have rejected the truth. The Holy Spirit is sent into this world to give witness to Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the Truth. If they have rejected the truth, they have rejected Jesus Christ. Now many of these people even today would call themselves Catholics or Christians, but the reality of the matter is they have rejected Jesus Christ. They do not want the truth. It is not just simply that they are ignorant of the truth or that they are merely in error, because if that were the case, when they heard the truth they would repent. They would reject their error and they would reject their errant ways. But these are people who oftentimes do not want the truth. They like the way they are living and they do not want to change. And so it is just as these people when they heard Saint Stephen speak, or just as the ones of whom Our Lord speaks in the Gospel, that when they hear the truth they will still hand their brothers, their parents, or their children over to death because they do not want the truth.
We do need to understand exactly what that means. It does not mean that the Lord is going to free us from the persecution, but it means we will be given the grace to endure it. Far more than that, what it means for us is that we need always to stand up for the truth – even when people do not want to hear it. And we must understand the consequences. Remember, Our Lord told us that it is not us whom they reject; it is Him whom they reject. He tells us in the Gospel reading that we will be hated by all because of His Name, but He also told us, “If they hate you, it is because they hated Me first.” So it is the same point: It is the truth that they hate, and the truth is Jesus Christ. If they do not want the truth, it does not matter how Christian they want to call themselves, they have rejected Jesus Christ and they have rejected the truth. It is for that reason that they get angry when you try to speak the truth to them, and it is for that reason that they respond similarly to what these people did to Saint Stephen. They maybe do not take you outside the city and stone you to death, maybe you have not yet been handed over to magistrates or to judges or to anyone else, but the fact is if the message that you are upholding is the truth and they reject it, they have done the same thing: They have covered the ears of their hearts. They do not want to hear the truth and they have rejected Jesus Christ.
On our part, we must make sure that that is not what we are doing. We have to always approach things with charity. We must always keep our hearts open to the truth. We need to look at our own lives and ask, “Is there someplace where my own pride is getting in the way, where there is some point of truth that I know is right but I just don’t want to change my life and I don’t want to listen to it?” Is there someplace where we are rejecting the Lord? We will be held responsible for what we know and what we have done with that knowledge. We must speak the truth in charity and we must live it in our own lives. That is what people need to see and hear in and through us, but it means that we first have to accept it. We have to mold our lives according to that truth, and the truth is Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.