A good meditation for deacons on suffering is to place yourself next to St. Stephen as we find him in the Scriptures.
In a nearby church in the apse over the sanctuary is a fresco of the martyrdom of St. James the Less. Legend has it that he was clubbed to death and the brightly colored painting in the church named after him simply demands that you bring yourself into the depicted scene. When I look at it, I not only think of St. James, but I am drawn into visualizing the stoning of St. Stephen.
A deacon’s suffering is a slow stoning. It isn’t a quick blow to the head that brings about disengagement from the world. It is a slow pelting. One after another, some small, some large. Each blow is a reminder that we are mere servants, configured to Christ in that way and dependent on him. Each time we feel the sting, the opportunity is there for us to look heavenward, as did Stephen, and see the heavens opening a bit – ever so slightly it may seem – and the glory of God shining upon us and those who strike us.
This is a suffering that requires great courage and faith and self-knowledge. It is a free act of will, an active choosing the path of Jesus himself.
St. Stephen was so terribly misunderstood by those who condemned him. Are we not also misunderstood by those to whom we minister?
What is our response? What need we do?
We dare not disengage from the world. We must reach out to it and bring it into God’s glory, as St. Stephen did when he exclaimed to his executioners, “I see the heavens open and the glory of God!” In his last minutes he proclaimed the truth and was God’s witness in the midst of the broken realities of the world.
He stayed engaged; he remained faithful; he preached the faith.