Stephen . . . looked up intently to heaven.
According to St. Robert Bellarmine, “The secret to dying well is living well.” It’s a simple formula: those who “live well” by trying their best to keep the commandments and embody the beatitudes will feel more prepared to meet the Lord at the end of their lives. They will be more peaceful, less fearful, and more concerned about the people they are leaving behind.
Of all the deaths we read about in Scripture (apart from Jesus’ death, of course), it would be hard to find one more inspiring than Stephen’s. Luke tells us that at the beginning of Stephen’s trial, “his face was like the face of an angel”. And today, we read how his last words were words of forgiveness: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”. Now that’s what dying well looks like!
Stephen’s faith-filled death can seem very heroic to us. And to a degree it is—he even had a vision of Jesus in heaven just before he died! But let’s take Robert Bellarmine’s words and apply them to Stephen. Clearly, this was a man who lived well. The grace that he showed at his death was just a continuation of the grace he had experienced throughout his life. Stephen was already in the habit of looking “intently to heaven”. He was already in the habit of “seeing” Jesus and feeling his presence. He was already in the habit of forgiving his persecutors and surrendering his life to the Lord. So his death was nothing more—and nothing less—than an extension of his life of discipleship.
Now, it’s only natural to feel some fear of death. It’s the biggest unknown of our existence. What will heaven be like? What will we do for all eternity? What about our bodies? Will we really see God? What if it’s only a story? Questions like these come to us almost instinctively, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them. But they don’t have to control us. Thank God we have people like Stephen who can show us how to “live well” and who can help us learn how to “die well”!
word among us