October 16, 2016

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

The martyrdom of St. Ignatius
October 17th, the Church commemorates one of the most important Apostolic Fathers of Christian antiquity, who lived less than a century after Christ. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, was the third Bishop of Antioch (a city in present day Turkey) from 70 to 107, the date of his martyrdom. Tradition holds he was one of the children in the Gospels that Jesus blessed.

Ignatius is credited with coining the term ‘Catholic’ in reference to the universal Church. "Wherever Jesus Christ is", he said, "there is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans, 8:2). He is best known for the seven letters he wrote to six early Christian communities and to Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, defending orthodoxy, urging unity and warning against heresy as he journeyed to his death from Antioch to Rome — a precious treasure passed down from the Church of the 1st century. Of that final journey, Ignatius notes the following in offering his torments and impending martyrdom to Christ:

"From Syria to Rome I must do battle with beasts on land and sea. For day and night I am chained to ten leopards, that is, the soldiers who guard me and grow more ferocious the better they are treated. Their mistreatment is good instruction for me, yet am I still far from justified. Oh, that I may meet the wild beasts now kept in readiness for me. I shall implore them to give me death promptly and to hasten my departure. I shall invite them to devour me so that they will not leave my body unharmed as already has happened to other witnesses. If they refuse to pounce upon me, I shall impel them to eat me. My little children, forgive me these words. Surely I know what is good for me. From things visible I no longer desire anything; I want to find Jesus. Fire and cross, wild beasts, broken bones, lacerated members, a body wholly crushed, and Satan's every torment, let them all overwhelm me, if only I reach Christ" (Romans, 5).

Having experienced a personal encounter with Jesus, Ignatius converted as a young man and became a disciple of the beloved disciple John. His holiness, intellect and zeal came to the attention of Peter, the first Pope, who consecrated him Bishop of Antioch around the year 69. Ignatius proved to be a wise and much beloved prelate. Maintaining the hierarchical structure of the Church, and at the same time, the unity of the faithful in Christ, were among his greatest concerns. Even greater was his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than deny his Faith.

In 107, during a wave of Christian persecution by the Roman Emperor Trajan, Christians were told to renounce their faith or face a penalty of death. After refusing to do so, Ignatius was taken under guard to Rome where he was brutally killed by wild beasts in the Flavian Amphitheatre. His sacrifice is recorded in the Roman Martyrology: "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." Almighty ever-living God, who adorn the sacred body of your Church with the confessions of holy Martyrs, grant, we pray, that, just as the glorious passion of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, which we celebrate today, brought him into eternal splendor, so too, may it be for us unending protection.

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