Wednesday, February 1, 2012

St. Ignatius of Antioch

The saint for today is St. Ignatius of Antioch, our second Pope who was martyred between 98 and 117 A.D.  He was thrown to the lions in the Roman Colosseum.  The most unusal aspect of this martyrdom is that St. Ignatius begged the people to allow it to happen and prayed that the lions would not be stopped from attacking him as happened to other great saints when the lions refused to attack.  The Traditional Breviary has a great reading from St. Jerome the Priest:
Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch after the Apostle Peter. When Trajan stirred up his persecution, he was condemned to be devoured by wild beasts, and sent to Rome in chains. When on his journey thither he arrived at Smyrna, where Polycarp, the disciple of John, was Bishop, he wrote an Epistle to the Ephesians, another to the Magnesians, a third to the Trallians, and a fourth to the Roman : and after leaving Smyrna, he addressed a further Epistle to the Philadelphians, and another to the Smyrnians, along with a private Epistle to Polycarp, to whose care he commended the Church of Antioch. In this last he quoteth a passage regarding the Person of Christ from the Gospel, which I have recently translated.
It is fitting that, as we have made mention of a man of so much importance, we should also note briefly the Epistle which he addressed to the Romans. I am on my way, saith he, from Syria to Rome, and am already fighting with beasts on sea and on land all the way. I may say I am chained day and night to ten leopards, for indeed the soldiers, who have charge of me, are no better. The more courteous I am to them, the worse they use me. But still their wickedness is good schooling for me, though I know that my mere sufferings cannot in themselves gain me justification. I earnestly wish for the beasts which are to devour me ; at any rate, I pray they may put me out of pain quickly, and fly on me willingly, that I be not like some other Martyrs, whose bodies the animals have refused to touch. If I find that they will not come on, I will run at them as quick as I can, to make them devour me. Let me be, my little children : I know what is good for me.

I feel now that I am beginning to be Christ's disciple ; I desire none of those things which are seen, if so be I may find Christ Jesus. I care not that there come upon me fire, or cross, or wild beasts, or breaking of my bones, or sundering of my members, or destruction of my whole body, yea, or all the torments of the devil, if only so be I may win Christ. When he was brought condemned to the theatre, and heard the roaring of the beasts which were to devour him, he felt so strong an eagerness to suffer, that he cried out : I am Christ's wheat, and so let the beasts' teeth be my mill, that I may be ground, and be found to make good bread. He suffered in the eleventh year of Trajan. What was left of his body lieth at Antioch, in the graveyard outside the gate which leadeth toward Daphne.

Again, I can only marvel that the saints have such a great love for Christ that they actually welcome suffering for him.   I pray that I will one day get to that point.  I have a hard time just accepting a headache.  I don't know how I could actually bring myself to welcome being thrown to the lions.  Truly that is the grace of God.
The Breviary also included a reading from St. Augustine:
The Lord Jesus was himself a corn of wheat that was to die and bring forth much fruit ; to die by the unbelief of the Jews, and to bring forth much fruit in the faith of the Gentiles. He, exhorting men to follow his steps, saith : He that loveth his life shall lose it. Now, these words may be understood in two ways. First : he that loveth his life shall lose it, that is, If thou love life, thou wilt lose it ; if thou wilt live for ever in Christ, refuse not to die for Christ. Or secondly : he that loveth his life shall lose it ; love not then that which thou shalt lose ; love not this present life, so that thou be thereby in jeopardy of losing life eternal. 
That this second interpretation is the meaning of the Gospel, appeareth most probably from the words which follow : And he that hateth his life in this world, shall keep it unto life eternal. From which we may suppose the sense of the first words to be : He that loveth his life in this world shall lose it unto life eternal. This is a great and marvellous saying, shewing how a man may so love life as to lose life, and so hate life as to keep life. If thou love it too well, then dost thou hate it : if thou hate it with an holy hatred, then dost thou love it. Blessed are they that, lest they should so love it as to lose it, so hate it as to keep it.
Beware lest thou take these words, He that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal, as some do, for an approval of suicide. Some evil and perverse men, bloody and guilty murderers of themselves, do indeed throw themselves into the fire, drown themselves in water, and cast themselves down precipices, and so perish. This is not the teaching of Christ, who, when the devil would have him cast himself down from an high place, answered : Get thee behind me, Satan. It is written, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Who also said to Peter, signifying by what death he should glorify God : When thou wast young thou girdedst thyself and walkedst whither thou wouldest ; but when thou shalt be old, another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. From which it is evident that he that would follow Christ's footsteps, must be slain, not by himself, but by another.
This is one of the greatest lessons that the saints teach us.  We must learn to actually hate our life in this world, to be able to walk away from everything and everyone we love.  Christ told us that if our eye causes us to offend, we should pluck it out.  He did not mince words when he said:  "If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother and wife and children and brethren and sisters, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple."  Luke 14:26.

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