Pope at Audience: martyrs ensure growth and fruitfulness to People of God
By Robin Gomes
Pope Francis began his catechesis, explaining that there have always been problems in the Church, including in the early Christian community, as St. Luke points out in the Acts of the Apostles. This first community made up of faithful from various cultural backgrounds and faiths created “fragile and precarious balances”. Hence “weeds” arise, and the worst weed that destroys a community, the Pope said, is slander. The Greeks grumbled that the community was neglecting their widows.
Balancing preaching and service
They find a way out of this difficulty by distributing the various tasks for a serene growth of the entire ecclesial body, without neglecting the preaching of the Gospel and caring for the poorest members.
They establish a nucleus of “seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom”, called Deacons, who will take care of the community’s service and charity. The Pope said that Deacons are not priests but are the guardians of service in the Church. The Apostles create Deacons to bring about harmony between service to the Word and service to charity, which is the leaven that makes the ecclesial body grow.
Stephen – victim of slander
Among the seven Deacons, Stephen and Philip stand out in a particular way. Stephen evangelizes with force and ‘parresia’, but his word meets the most stubborn resistance. His adversaries find a vile means to destroy him with slander or false witness.
Describing slander as a “diabolic cancer” that kills, the Holy Father said it is born of the desire to destroy a person’s reputation. Slander, he said, also attacks the rest of the ecclesial body and seriously damages it when, out of petty interests or to cover up one’s own shortcoming, one joins forces with others to smear someone.