Saints of the Canon – Saint Ignatius of Antioch

[Saint Ignatius of Antioch]Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch for nearly forty years, was a pupil of the Apostles. Taken captive during the Trajan persecution, orders were given that he be sent immediately to Rome so that he would arrive there in time for the wild beast shows. On that journey to Rome he wrote seven letters which are highly prized. The Christians flocked around this grand old man, turning his journey into a triumphal progress.

At Rome the Christians knew of his coming and plans were made to rescue him before he reached the city. Ignatius heard of this and wrote to them pleading to let things be. Here are some of the glorious words he wrote to the Christians in Rome (he wrote them at night while his jailers slept, wrote them while he knew that every day he was drawing nearer to the arena where the wild beasts awaited him):

“If you keep silence about me, I shall become a word of God, but if you love my flesh too much I shall again be a mere sound. Only allow me to be offered as a libation to God while the altar is still prepared. I am God’s wheat and am to be ground by the beasts’ teeth to become the spotless bread of Christ.” (These words form the Communion in the proper of the Mass for Saint Ignatius on October 17th {February 1st}).

“Agree with me. I know what is good for me. Now I begin to be a disciple. My birthday is at hand. Suffer me to come to the pure light. When I reach it I shall be man indeed. Permit me to imitate the passion of my God. If any man hears Him in himself he surely will understand my desire and sympathize with me.

“Fleshly love had been crucified in me and there is no longer fire of love for material things, but only a living water that speaks to me within my soul.” Speaking of the Blessed Eucharist which he calls “the medicine of immortality,” he says:

“I desire the bread of God, which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, and for drink, His Blood, which is incorruptible charity.”

On December 20th in the year 107, the last day of the wild beast shows, Ignatius was thrown to the hungry lions in the Flavian amphitheatre. The animals tore and ate his body so that only the large bones remained. Those bones now await the last day in the Church of San Clemente, Rome.

What a heroic soul! Everything human in Ignatius of Antioch must have shuddered and shivered at the image of that arena upon which he will stand defenceless as the gates are raised to release the growling, savage, hungry animals upon him. The Christians everywhere along the route from Antioch to Rome were strengthened by the faith of Ignatius. And what was the source of that heroism? He tells us that it was the Blessed Eucharist.

Whenever we are asked to accept a cross, a sickness, a humiliation, or perhaps, some failure which hurts our pride, let us come to Mass with this martyred bishop, and seek courage where he found it.

- from The Saints of the Canon, by Monsignor John T. McMahon, M.A., Ph.D; Australian Catholic Truth Society, 1958