(August 24, 2020)
“They threw (Stephen) out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at a young man named Saul. As they were stoning Stephen, he called out, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” (Acts 7:58-59)
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” (Tertullian, Apologeticus L.13)
The murder of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of the Catholic Church, became a witness to the Roman citizen and Jewish leader Saul, who encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity (cf. Acts 9:1-9).
As a symbol of his conversion, he later changed his name to Paul (Acts 13:9), which in Latin means “small” or “humble.”
We Christians ought to be deeply grateful for the faith and the witness of Stephen, in and through whose martyrdom resulted in the conversion of one of the most prolific writers and evangelists in the early Church.
The blood of Stephen was not in vain, but sowed very pivotal seeds for the Church.
Martyr comes from the Greek word mártus, which means “witness.” While the original use of the word did not necessarily denote death due to one’s witness; this became the case in the early Church’s history, and continues even today.
I wish to discuss the witness of someone, which led me to deep conversion.
When the knee of Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, I could no longer passively sit by and let another Black person be unjustly murdered.
I lament that the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were not enough, nor the murders of Eric Garner and Freddie Gray, for me to get off of the sidelines and become vocal.
But when George Floyd was murdered, I, like Saul, encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. And I believe Jesus is calling me to proclaim that racism, in all of its demonic forms, is incompatible with Jesus’ Gospel.
Black lives need to matter, as they do to Jesus.
Black lives need to matter in the US, in the world, and especially in the Church founded by Jesus (cf. Matthew 16:18).
George Floyd was my Stephen.
As I write this, on Sunday an unarmed young Black man named Jacob Blake was shot at least seven times in the back by two police officers.
When, O Lord, will it end?
I believe all of the Black people who have been murdered unjustly, especially those included in my Litany of Black Lives, are witnesses to the call that Black Lives Matter, and that they especially matter to Jesus.
Therefore, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, among so many others, are martyrs.
Their martyrdom is not unlike the martyrdom of the Jesuit community in El Salvador, the martyrdom of St. Maximilian Kolbe and so many others during the Holocaust, the martyrdom of Stephen, or even the martyrdom of Saints Peter and Paul.
One may contest that to call George Floyd, a convicted criminal, a martyr would be blasphemous.
Firstly, an entire tome could be dedicated to the study of racial inequity in the criminal justice system. Therefore it is difficult to assess the truth and validity of said crimes.
Secondly, even if Mr. Floyd was due each and every conviction, our Christian faith holds that only God has the power to judge (cf. John 8:7), and the One who has the power to judge pardoned the Good Thief before His own death (cf. Luke 23:43).
And I believe the unjust murder of George Floyd and so many others, coupled with the mercy of Christ, thereby justifies the Black Lives Martyrs in the salvific sense.
I especially want to make clear that even if George Floyd was a hardened criminal, there is no justification for the injustice of his murder.
When I see the photo selfie of George Floyd or the photo of Breonna Taylor from her family, I see people who believe in a hopeful future, who want to be loved, and who deserve to be loved.
However, the destructive sin of racism resulted in the untimely deaths of these two and so many others.
Let not these murders be in vain, but be a witness that Black Lives do Matter and need to matter in our world and in our Church.
May these murders be a witness that leads to personal conversions and the societal structural conversion from the sin of racism.
May the blood of the Black Lives Martyred be the seeds of a just society that truly honors God by honoring all people.