Kempis here (2,10) is only telling us what Our Lord Jesus Christ made known emphatically to His disciples: we will suffer in this life (see Mk 10:29-30), this valley of tears (see Ps 84:7); we will be asked to take up our own crosses if we wish to follow the Christian path (see Mt 16:24). Why? Jesus said:
Remember the word I spoke to you, “No slave is greater than his master.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (Jn 15:20)
In yesterday’s first reading (Acts 7:51-8a) we found out the deacon Stephen’s fate for proclaiming the truth. After calling out “the people, the elders, and the scribes” for their hardness in heart not only in not embracing Christ’s message but for their entire history of persecuting God’s messengers, we find these listeners “infuriated.” Unable to withstand the veracity of the words of this man of God and their indictment of them, they rush upon him, throw him out of the city, and begin to stone him. Stephen, undoubtedly hoping for conversions but likely expecting stubbornness, imitates his Master on the cross: he asks for forgiveness on his murderers’ behalf and offers up his soul to Jesus at the moment of death.
We marvel at the courage of this first Christian martyrs and pray that we would imitate his resolve and courage while hoping it never comes to that for us. God willing, we will not have to suffer this specific fate. But what of all the pin pricks of annoyances and troubles of day to day life? How do we handle those? How about the pebbles, stones, and even boulders that come at us unfairly, whether or not specifically about faith matters? What is our reaction to these incoming? As much as we try to avoid difficulties (not that we always should — sometimes our Faith and our responsibilities require otherwise_ we know that we will be assailed by them. Do we meet them with patience and forbearance as Jesus, Stephen, and so many Catholic martyrs, who suffered much worse, have? Can we do this even without human or even divine consolation? Sirach and Peter offer wisdom here:
Until the right time, the patient remain calm, then cheerfulness comes back to them. (Sir 1:23)
Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient. (Sir 2:4)
[I]f you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. (1 Pt 2:20)
The Stoning of Saint Stephen (1625) by Rembrandt van Rijn