The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, Book III Chapter XLI: “Of the Contempt of all Worldly Honor” (first entry)
We begin this very short chapter by presenting the last paragraph, spoken by the disciple in response to Christ’s telling him that when he is despised on earth he should have recourse to Him. A line in the reflection following the text says all that needs to be said about this chapter: “It is only just that a person, who has sinned against his Creator, be punished by creatures, who are the instruments of Divine Justice.”
|Today’s first reading: 1 Cor 4:6b-15
Paul uses irony (I deem it sarcasm) to call out the Corinthians who are proud, boastful, and full or worldly wisdom, thinking that the possessions they have and the honors they have received came through their own power or status. Paul and Apollos, on the other hand, count themselves fools for Christ and are persecuted for His name. Yet they do not return these attacks in kind. Paul closes by saying that he does not write this to shame the Corinthians but to admonish them to listen to apostles like himself in order to live well as Christians.
The apostles and many early Christians were “willing to be despised and forsaken by all creatures” for the sake of the Faith. This disposition was not unique to them and their time as throughout the ages, and even today, in many parts of the world, including our own country, being “despised and forsaken” for espousing and living authentic Christianity is becoming more and more a commonplace.
Blessing our persecutors, enduring their persecution, responding to slander gently. These are the dispositions Paul and his companions possessed, and what we are called to do by Holy Writ. This is true imitation of Christ. Christianity’s numbers explode when and where its adherents are most despised. When Jesus superseded “an eye for an eye” with “turn the other cheek,” it seems to me He was on to something (see Ex 21:23-25 and Mt 5:38-42) (I’m sure Jesus is happy for my vote of confidence in Him)? Our politicians should take special note, but this instruction applies to us all. This begins in the domestic church (our homes) and fans out. It is a grassroots effort. Revenge must become socially unacceptable. Thus hearts may be softened and the impulse to persecute be lessened.
The reward for all this effort to be Christlike? “Interior peace and strength,” spiritual enlightenment, and unity with the Lord. Quite a bargain, don’t you think?