Saint Ignatius of Antioch
By John Martin
St. Ignatius of Antioch was born in the early first century (35-50 A.D.), and along with his friend Polycarp, were students of the Apostle St. John. He was appointed Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter. During the reign of the emperor Trajan, he was condemned to death in Rome by becoming food for wild beasts and for the amusement of the people. Along his journey from Antioch to Rome, he (like St. Paul) greeted and exhorted Christians along the way. He also wrote seven letters to various churches throughout the known world, including one to Polycarp. Upon his arrival in Rome (107 A.D.), he was hurried to the amphitheater where he won the crown of martyrdom he so long desired.
When I approached my research of St. Ignatius, I was aware of the often-used quote: “I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ,” from his Epistle to the Romans, and was prepared to write on his zeal and the cardinal virtue of fortitude. But St. Ignatius, as much as he was a true witness to Christ in his death, was first and foremost a defender of Christian truth and unity.
St. Ignatius teaches us that we must have an unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ and the Church that He founded. We must adhere to the teachings of the Bishop of Rome and the other bishops in union with him. We must pass on and be willing to bear witness to this with our life and if called upon, with our death.
If here with us today, St. Ignatius would remind us, as he wrote to the Christians in Philadelphia: “As children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place.” We should hold steadfastly, in unity with the Church, to the ways of Truth and not be carried away with what the world has to offer as truth.
“It is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop,” he wrote to the Ephesians. Our desire then should be to know the will of our bishops and by doing so we can, with God’s grace, become children of “light and truth.” We should strive to read the Catechism, provided to us by the Church, as well as the Encyclicals and Letters of the Popes. In doing this, we will know what it takes to finish our journey to God. If we listen to what the Church teaches, we will be able to discern between right and wrong. The devil will not stand a chance.
Our duty as Catholics is to work with one another in the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel. We need to apply what the Church teaches us, not only for us in our struggle for sanctity, but to assist each other with this same goal. Here St. Ignatius speaks to us again as he wrote to St. Polycarp: “Labor together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God.” This is not some type of communal system that was proposed back in the free loving 60’s and 70’s, but an exhortation that in all we do we should be as one in mind and body. We should be of one in our hearts and mind, to bring each other to our prayer, and offer our sufferings for one another. Together with the Church we can “offer a sacrifice pleasing to God” (cf. Romans 12:1-2).
If we search all the saints, we would find that their greatest concern was the salvation of other souls. There has never been a selfish saint, one that said, “I need to worry about only my salvation.”
“Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever you do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God,” he wrote to the Magnesians.
We should strive then for unity and rid our church of discord, malice, gossip and anything that is contrary to what Christ has taught us. “Neither,” he continued, “endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled. There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”