Called to appear before the Jewish Council, Paul shrewdly set his opponents against one another. He said that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection of the dead, in which the Pharisees believed but the Sadducees did not.
Paul’s declaration was not just a clever ploy: it was true that the heart of his witness was the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus and our share in that resurrection.
If we have truly experienced Christ’s resurrection power for ourselves, like Paul we will want to proclaim it to others. For Paul, his experience of the risen Christ was so powerful that he had an unsuppressable drive to preach the gospel. This is how he was able to endure great suffering and persecution – imprisonment, beating, shipwreck, hunger – in order to testify to Christ.
We may not be called to suffer in the way that Paul was, but each of us is called to be witness to Christ’s resurrection for those we meet in our homes, workplaces and communities.
We tend to find sharing our faith difficult in today’s secular environment, but it is God who gives us the power to bear witness, and just as Paul’s preaching flowed from his encounter with the risen Christ, so can ours.
If we spend time in prayer and try to listen to the Holy Spirit, we shall gain greater enthusiasm to preach the gospel and find more opportunities so to do.
Lord Jesus, we proclaim that our hope is in your resurrection. We pray that we may come to experience more fully the power of that resurrection, and bring it to those around us every day.
Only Christ can open to us access to heaven and eternal life; we cannot enter God’s life on our own account. Why? Because none of us is able to conquer death, sin and evil; so without Christ we remain mortal and corruptible.
Our hope is that we may go where Christ has preceded us. This hope is grounded in Jesus’s own words: “and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (John 12;32).
Jesus’s ascension into heaven marks the definitive entrance of Jesus’s humanity into God’s heavenly domain. In the same way that Jesus ascended into heaven, so he will return. Meanwhile, he is hidden from our eyes but to him we pray today.
Come, Lord Jesus, come again to earth. Return as our God and King and establish your kingdom for ever and ever. Amen.
God will literally move heaven and earth to save us; God did so to lead the jailer and his family to conversion. The fruits of that conversion were immediate: deep joy, service of others and a profound conviction in the gospel message.
The call to conversion is one that occurs throughout our lives. We are called to lead others but also to be converted ourselves, and to this task we give ourselves. But why does God seek our conversion? What is it about the human condition that makes it so necessary? The Church recognises that the human heart is heavy and hardened by sin and by selfishness. It is because of this that we need a new heart.
Conversion is first and foremost a work of God, a movement of his grace within us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “God give us the strength to begin anew. It is in discovering the greatness of God’s love that our heart is shaken by the horror and weight of sin and begins to fear offending God by sin and being separated from him. The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced.” (para. 1432).
It is through the continuing process of conversion that we come to know God’s love; and we come to know God’s love by gazing upon the One we have pierced.
This is the path that the Holy Spirit invites us to walk. We are converted in the first instance by love, and it is by love that we will continue to be converted.
Father, teach me that thre is no other path but through the burning love of the crucified, a love which transformed Paul when he was carried up to the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2) that he could say: “with Christ I am nailed to the cross. I live , not not I but Christ liveth in me.” (Gal. 2:20 Rheims New Testament).
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.
Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.’
Paul was mercilessly stoned and then dragged and dumped outside the city walls. We need to remember that every time we encounter Paul, whether through his story retold in Acts or through his writings, we are encountering a man who suffered profoundly for his faith – even to paying the ultimate price.
But no amount of suffering would deter him from his mission of preaching the Good news: “when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city” (v.20). Sometimes we get knocked down, sometimes we trip and fall; either way the gospel is all about getting up again.
Lord, we are your people, the sheep of your flock. Heal the sheep who are wounded. Touch the sheep who are in pain. Clean the sheep who are soiled. Warm the lambs who are cold. Help us all to know the Father’s love. Renew us so that we may help renew the face of the earth.
Paul was gifted in many ways, but one thing he excelled at was proclaiming the gospel. He was a herald of the gospel message and here he is preaching his first recorded sermon on his first missionary journey. It is a masterclass on how to witness and to proclaim the gospel.
At the heart of Paul’s work was the proclamation of God’s great work of salvation. It was this message which compelled him to proclaim it from the rooftops, as it were.
When Paul was given the opportunity to preach by the synagogue leaders in Antioch, he seized it. We too need to be alert to opportunities to preach and to proclaim the gospel, opportunities which arise more often that we might expect.
We need to be alert to such opportunities and the Holy Spirit will make us sensitive to them, chances to speak about our faith. The Spirit will also guide us in what we say, keeping the tone light but sincere, but we should be ready for the chance to talk about Jesus, his life and his place in our lives.
Believe that the Spirit has prepared the hearts of those to whom you get the chance to speak and you will see minds opening to your message. The Holy Spirit is the primary agent of all our efforts at evangelisation – this was true in the early Church and is still true today.
Lord Jesus, I pray for the grace and wisdom to share my faith with joy, enthusiasm and clarity, and to be an attractive and appealing witness of Christian faith.
The conversion of Saul is a profound event in Acts, but we probably need to return to the martyrdom of Stephen to understand what might have taken place.
Stephen’s witness to the risen Christ must have had some effect on Paul. He had recounted the history of Israel but in a way that revealed the Israelites’ repeated rejection of God’s saving work. Stephen wanted to show that their rejection of Jesus, who had been spoken of by the prophets, was typical of a pattern throughout their history.
At the heart of Saul’s conversion was a radical realisation and re-reading of the Scriptures. For Saul the holiest day of the year would have been the feast of Yom Kippur, an occasion of atonement and repentance during which the people celebrated the covenant between God and themselves.
When Saul encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, he came to a completely new understanding of Jesus’s crucifixion. Far from being a justified punishment for blasphemy, he came to understand that Jesus's death was itself the holiest of events. It was the very reality of which Yom Kippur was only a symbol. The blood of Jesus established a new covenant – not only with the Jews but with all of humanity.
Through his death and resurrection Jesus has entered the very presence of the Father and has taken all of humanity with him. At the moment of his baptism Saul – thenceforward known as Paul – entered into union with Jesus, and we share this amazing privilege.
St Paul, pray for us that we may become lovers of the cross. St Joseph, pray for us that we may be custodians of the life of Christ.
As we cope with coronavirus in the UK, we think of our sisters and brothers in developing countries who are facing this pandemic with fragile health systems, some of which have almost no intensive care beds or ventilators.
Food prices have already risen with borders closing, the poorest are losing their jobs and income with wholesale shutdowns. Furthermore, inadequate healthcare, lack of access to washing facilities and limited ability to social distance will result in loss of life on an intolerable scale. The likely impact will be devastating.
We are one global family. In order to continue protecting and improving the lives of those in poor communities, your prayers, gifts and voices are needed now more than ever. Please visit cafod.org.uk/coronavirus to find out ways you can give, act and pray in response to this crisis.
Martyrdom is the greatest sign of Christian unity: men and women united in their commitment to laying down their lives for their Saviour. Regardless of denomination, Stephen holds pride of place, as first among equals.
But martyrdom is not only for the saints. As St Clement of Alexandria explained, “Martyrdom means bearing witness to God. Every soul that seeks in pureness of heart to know God and obeys the commandments of God is a martyr, bearing witness by life or words. In fact, even if it is not a matter of shedding blood, the soul is pouring out its faith because it is by faith that the soul will be separated from the body before a person dies."
Whatever our situation in life, we are called – like Stephen, our brother in faith – to be witnesses to the gospel of life. Each of us is called to die to ourselves and to live for God. In dying to ourselves we find life and become witness to God’s love, mercy and compassion.
Lord Jesus Christ, great me a sure grasp of the truth that in dying to self and living for you I may discover the mystery and meaning of life.
Events began to unfold around Stephen which mirrored the Lord’s Passion and death; false accusations, charges of blasphemy and being hauled before the Sanhedrin. Like Christ in life, like Christ in death, Stephen becomes the first martyr. And his witness of martyrdom speaks to every generation of believers, until the end of time.
Luke highlights how Stephen was a man full of grace, filled with wisdom and the Holy Spirit. He was God-centred, not self-centred. Where did this grace and power come from?
Some of the answer can be found in the opening verses of Chapter 6: Stephen was selected by members of his community because of his apparent virtues and was presented, along with six others for the blessing of the apostles.
Luke informs us that the apostles “prayed and laid their hands upon them” (v. 6). This was the customary manner in the early Church by which people were invested with the Holy Spirit to carry out special assignments and work. This must have been the source of Stephen’s Spirit-filled life.
We too can be filled with the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit we labour in vain as we seek to serve the Lord by the power of our own strength and abilities. Don’t be afraid to seek out the blessing of being prayed over to receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit.
Bishops, priests and deacons can make this prayer, but so can fellow believers – when two or three gather in Jesus’s name.
We are called to be Spirit-filled Christians, men and women who live not for ourselves but for others, not by our own strength but by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, fill me with your Spirit; fill me with your joy, hope and love that I many be an authentic witness of the Gospel.