Today, October 17, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch (50-107), second bishop of Antioch, disciple of Saint John, and martyr for the faith. In the Martyrology we read: "At Rome, the holy bishop and martyr Ignatius. He was the second successor to the apostle Peter in the see of Antioch. In the persecution of Trajan he was condemned to the wild beasts and sent in chains to Rome. There, by the emperor's order, he was subjected to most cruel tortures in the presence of the Senate and then thrown to the lions. Torn to pieces by their teeth, he became a victim for Christ." A holy man who was deeply loved by the Christian faithful, Saint Ignatius always made it his special care to defend “orthodoxy” (right teaching) and “orthopraxy” (right practice) among the early Christians.
Antioch was an important city in that day, and the Roman emperors frequently visited. In 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians who lived there to choose between apostasy (renouncing Christ) and death. Saint Ignatius, who had already governed that church as bishop for forty years, continued to fortify it against apostasy, and did not flee. Arrested and brought before the emperor who asked him: “Who are you, poor devil, to set our commands at naught?”
“Call not poor devil,” Saint Ignatius answered, “one who bears God within him.” Upon questioning by the emperor, Ignatius explained that he bore Christ in his heart, crucified for his sake.
“Change your ideas, and I will make you a priest of the great Jupiter, and you will be called ‘father’ by the Senate,” the emperor tempted him.
“What could such honors matter to me, a priest of Christ, who offer Him every day a sacrifice of praise, and am ready to offer myself to Him also?” Saint Ignatius was not to be swayed from the true faith.
“To whom? To that Jesus who was crucified by Pontius Pilate?” the emperor asked incredulously.
“Yes, and with whom sin was crucified, and the devil, its author, vanquished.”
The emperor was so moved by Ignatius’ faith that he suspended questioning, so that he might contemplate the saint’s words overnight. The following day, the interrogation continued. At that time, following more questions, Saint Ignatius said, “I will not sacrifice; I fear neither torments nor death, because I desire to go quickly to God.”
“binding him in the same chains as Paul, His apostle.”
Saint Ignatius was marched in chains to Rome, through Asia Minor and Greece, encouraging the faithful with every step. His final journey was a mystical Way of the Cross for him, and the seven letters he wrote along the way resemble seven stations of the Cross. While at Smyrna, Saint Ignatius wrote letters to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. Later, at Troas, he wrote to the churches at Philadelphia and Smyrna, and to Saint Polycarp, a friend and Christian brother. These letters, still extant, are continue to provide direction, encouragement, and example of perfect obedience and faith.
The content of the letters addressed the hierarchy and structure of the Church as well as the content of the orthodox Christian faith. It was Saint Ignatius who first used the term “catholic” to describe the whole Church. These letters connect us to the early Church and the unbroken, clear teaching of the Apostles which was given to them directly by Jesus Christ. They also reveal the holiness of a man of God who became himself a living reflection of Christ. In his letters, Ignatius clearly affirmed Christ’s divinity and his resurrection from the dead. He encouraged all Christians to maintain church unity in and through the Eucharist and the authority of the local bishop. Above all else, his letters reflect an exalted, almost mystical, view of martyrdom as the highest goal to which the disciple of Christ can aspire.
Rome: "Permit me to imitate my suffering God ... I am God's wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.”
The wild beasts left nothing of his body except a few bones, which were reverently treasured at Antioch until their removal in the year 637 to the Church of Saint Clement in Rome. After the martyr’s death, several Christians saw him in vision, in prayer to Christ, and interceding for them.
Feed us, O Lord, with the living bread
and make us drink deep of the cup of salvation
that, following the teaching of thy bishop Ignatius,
and rejoicing in the faith
with which he embraced the death of a martyr,
we may be nourished for that eternal life
which he ever desired;
through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord,
who liveth and reigneth with thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Excerpt from the Letter of Saint Ignatius to the Ephesians
I do not command you as if I were someone great, for even though I be bound in the Name, I am not yet perfect in Jesus Christ. For now I do but begin to be a disciple and I speak to you as to my fellow learners. And it were fitting for me to be anointed by you for the contest, with faith, admonition, patience, long-suffering. But since love does not suffer me to be silent concerning you, I have therefore hastened to exhort you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of God. For Jesus Christ, our inseparable Life, is the mind of the Father, even as the bishops who are settled in the farthest parts of the earth are the mind of Christ.
4. Hence it is fitting for you to set yourselves in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as indeed you do. For your noble presbytery, worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop, even as the strings to a lyre. And thus by means of your accord and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. Form yourselves one and all into a choir, that blending in concord and taking the keynote of God, you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, that he may hear you and recognize you through your good deeds to be members of His Son. Therefore it is profitable for you to live in blameless unity, that you may always enjoy communion with God....
10. And for the rest of mankind pray unceasingly-for there is in them hope of repentance, that they may attain unto God. Let them also be instructed by the example of your works. In face of their outbursts of wrath be patient; in face of their arrogant words be humble; meet their revilings with prayers; where they are in error be steadfast in the faith; in face of their violence be gentle. Be not anxious to retaliate on them. Let our forbearance prove us their brethren. Endeavor to imitate the Lord, striving who can suffer the greater wrong, who can be more defrauded, who can be set at naught, that no rank weed of the devil be found in you. In all purity and sobriety abide in Christ Jesus in flesh and in spirit.
Excerpt from the Letter of Saint Ignatius to the Smyrneans
1. I give glory to Jesus Christ, the God who has given you wisdom. For I have perceived that you are firmly settled in unwavering faith, being nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, fully convinced as touching our Lord that he is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, and Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin, baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled in Him, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch truly nailed up for us in the flesh (of whose fruit are we, even of His most blessed Passion); that He might raise up an ensign to the ages through His resurrection, for his saints and believers, whether Jews or Gentiles, in one body of His church.
4. ... For if these deeds were wrought by our Lord in mere semblance, then too are my bonds mere semblance. And why moreover have I surrendered myself to death, to face fire, sword, and wild beasts? For to be near the sword is to be near to God, in the midst of wild beasts is in the midst of God, if only it be in the name Jesus Christ, that we may suffer with Him. All things I endure, since He, the perfect man, makes me strong.
Year 2: Day 290 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Sacrificial faith; Desire to reflect Christ in the world.
Requested Intentions: Successful work placement, continued health (A); Grace and healing for a family (P); Healing of a father (M); Academic success for son, employment for husband and brother (B); Freedom from anxiety and panic attacks (R); Health and healing in preparation for surgery (C); Healing of a chronic illness (P); Safety of a family during storms (A); Successful home ownership (P); Healing of a marriage (M); Employment for a husband, blessings for a marriage (E); Successful examinations for a daughter, healing of a relationships (V); Blessing for a family (V); Healing of baby girl M and all children suffering (M); Special intentions (R); Business success, peace, health (E); Conversion and deliverance of those who suffer, increase in vocations (M); Financial security and safe housing (M); For a daughter (K); Conversion of a family, deliverance of the souls in Purgatory (S); Successful marriage (A); Health, safety, grace, success of a building project (A); Successful treatment and recovery from cancer (D); Clear speech for a child (C); Conversion of a family (A); Successful employment (S); For the healing of impaired vision (F); For a couple experiencing difficulties (L); Successful employment after finishing college (M); Mother’s health (A); Financial security, freedom from anxiety (S).