After the one who had betrayed Jesus died, the apostles gathered to choose someone to replace him, someone who had “accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). Matthias, and a few others, met this requirement of having been with Jesus from the beginning and having been a witness to his resurrection.
Just a few chapters later in Acts, the apostles again gathered, this time to choose seven to serve at table, rather than to fill out their number. And this time the requirements were different. They said, “Pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:3). Pentecost, which took place in Acts 2, had changed things.
After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit blows through the early pages of Acts with a lively vigor. It’s as if Pentecost hadn’t ceased: the fire of the Spirit no longer sits above the heads of the apostles only but has come to burn within each Christian.
And so we have St. Stephen, one such man alive in the Holy Spirit whom we find preaching Jesus Christ.
In St. Stephen, Scripture reveals to us the interior workings of the Spirit in the Christian life. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell in those hearts that have been fashioned by sanctifying grace. Receiving the Spirit at Baptism and sealed with his gifts at Confirmation, the Catholic can live forever with the Divine Guest in his or her soul. There, the Sanctifier begins his quiet work of fashioning that soul more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Made more perfectly in the image of Christ, the soul returns with Christ to its eternal home in the Father.
The Spirit’s work of conforming souls more perfectly to Christ is evident in St. Stephen. Because he was “full of the Holy Spirit,” Stephen was made to die a death like Christ’s (Acts 7:54-60). Accused by false witnesses like his Master, Stephen, through the gift of wisdom, imitated the risen Lord by expounding the Scriptures to those accusing him. Angered, the crowd dragged him, as they forced Jesus, outside of the city and stoned him to death. On the brink of death, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” and with his last breath, he cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” With the words of the crucified Christ on his lips, he departed the world in the Spirit to live forever rejoicing with Jesus, sharing in that same vision of the glory of God the Father.
Image: Juan de Juanes, Entierro de San Esteban