Francis notes how there is more persecution of Christians today than there was even in the first centuries of the Church
Pope Francis is calling us to imitate the innumerable martyrs of our day, learning to live a “full life” and welcoming the sacrifices of each day that are a “martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and conformation to Christ.”
The pope said this in the general audience, as he continued his reflection on the Acts of the Apostles. Today’s audience focused on the ministry of deacons, which came about in the Church in response to the “grumbling” that was destroying the Community. Grumbling and chattering can destroy a community, the pope warned.
“The diaconate in the Church is not a second-level priesthood, it is another thing; it is not for the altar, but for service,” he said, as he explained that the diaconate was established as the apostles became more and more aware that their time was meant to be dedicated to prayer and preaching.
Thus, said Francis, the deacon is “the custodian of service in the Church.”
And he warned: “When a deacon likes going to the altar too much, he errs. This is not his path. This harmony between service to the Word and service to charity represents the leaven that makes the ecclesial body grow.”
Considering the testimony of one of the deacons chosen by the Apostles, St. Stephen, the pope noted how those who resisted his witness chose “the meanest solution for destroying a human being: that is, slander or false testimony.”
“Slander always kills,” the pope said. “This ‘diabolical cancer,’ which is born of the desire to destroy the reputation of a person, also harms the rest of the ecclesial body and damages it gravely when, for trivial interests or to cover up one’s own inadequacies, it comes together to smear someone.”
This slander eventually leads to Stephen’s martyrdom.
With this, the pope reflected about how martyrdom continues to be a part of the Church, and how martyrs are really just ordinary people who are faithful at the moment it means the most:
Today there are more martyrs than at the beginning of the Church’s life, and martyrs are everywhere. Today’s Church is rich in martyrs, it is irrigated by their blood which is “the seed of new Christians” (Tertullian, Apologetic, 50,13) and ensures growth and fruitfulness for the People of God. The martyrs are not “holy men,” but men and women in flesh and blood who – as the Revelation says – “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7: 14). They are the true winners. Let us also ask the Lord that, looking at the martyrs of yesterday and today, we can learn to live a full life, welcoming the martyrdom of daily fidelity to the Gospel and conformation to Christ.