Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "May the Virgin Mary, to whom we entrust those - and unfortunately many – who like St. Stephen suffer persecution in the name of the faith, our many martyrs, directs our prayer to receive and grant forgiveness", prayed Pope Francis today, concluding his reflection before the Angelus prayer in St Peter's Square, on the day when the Church celebrates its first martyr, the deacon Stephen, who as he was being martyred in Jerusalem forgave his killers.
In the tradition of the Church, the Christmas feast is very closely linked to that of St. Stephen. "Yesterday - said Francis - we contemplated the merciful love of God who became flesh for us. Today we see the consistent response of the disciple of Jesus, who gives life. Yesterday, the Savior was born on earth; now born his faithful witness is born in heaven. Yesterday as today, the darkness of denial of life appears, but the light of love that overcomes hatred and inaugurates a new world still shines stronger ".
"Stephen - he explained - is therefore a martyr, which means witness, because he does as Jesus does; In fact a true witness behaves like Him: those who pray, those who love, those who give, but especially those who forgive because forgiveness, as the name implies, is the highest expression of the gift”.
Forgive leads to "results" and is not just "a good deed": "Among those for which he begged forgiveness was a young man named Saul; he persecuted the Church and tried to destroy it (cf. Acts 8.3). Saul became Paul shortly after, the great saint, the apostle of the Gentiles. He had been forgiven by Stephen. We can say that Paul was born by God's grace and Stephen’s forgiveness".
"We too - he continued - are born from God's forgiveness. Not only in baptism, but every time we are forgiven our heart is reborn, it is regenerated. Each step forward in the life of faith is impressed with the early sign of divine mercy. Because only when we are loved we can love ourselves. Let’s remember this, it will do us good: If we want to move forward in faith, first of all we must receive God's forgiveness; encounter the Father, who is ready to forgive everything and always, and it is forgiving that heals hearts and revives love. We must never tire of asking God's forgiveness, because only when we are forgiven can we learn to forgive. "
"To forgive, however, is always very difficult," added the Pope. "How can we imitate Jesus? Where do we begin in excusing the small or large wrongs that we suffer every day? First of all by prayer, as Stephen. did It starts from your heart: Through prayer we can deal with the resentment we feel, by giving those who have done evil to the mercy of God. ... " Lord I ask for him, I ask for her ...". Then it turns out that this inner struggle to forgive purifies from evil and that prayer and love set us free from the chains of inner resentment. Every day we have the opportunity to train ourselves to forgive, to live this elevated gesture that brings man closer to God. As our Heavenly Father, we too become merciful, through forgiveness we overcome evil with good, we transform hate into love and so we make the world cleaner ".
After the Marian prayer, waving to all the pilgrims present, Francis wished them that "the contemplation of the Child Jesus, standing next to Mary and Joseph, may inspire an attitude of mercy and love for one another in families, parishes and religious movements and associations, in all the faithful and people of good will. "
Finally, the pontiff expressed his gratitude for the "many greetings" received "from Rome and elsewhere."
"I cannot possibly respond to each one", he added. "Therefore, today I express to you and to all my heartfelt thanks, especially for the gift of prayer."