The Word of God

October 17, 2020 – Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

For the readings on Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, please go here.

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr
Lectionary: 660

Reading 1 – PHIL 3:17C-4:1

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters,
and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.
For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified Body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Responsorial Psalm – PS 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R.    (5) The Lord delivered me from all my fears.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
R.    The Lord delivered me from all my fears.
Glorify the LORD with me,
let us together extol his name.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.
R.    The Lord set me free from all my fears.
Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.
When the poor one called out, the LORD heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.
R.    The Lord delivered me from all my fears.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
Taste and see how good the LORD is;
blessed the man who takes refuge in him.
R.    The Lord delivered me from all my fears.

Alleluia – JAS 1:12

R.    Alleluia, alleluia.
Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation,
for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life.
R.    Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel – JN 12:24-26

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.
The Father will honor whoever serves me.”

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop, Martyr
c. Mid First Century – c. 110

An early Bishop welcomes his coming martyrdom and elaborates on Catholic theology

Although not the most famous Saint Ignatius in the Church, today’s saint was the first to offer a theology of martyrdom. He also wrote seven famous letters en route to his ritual death in Rome, which set forth, with surprising vigor for so early a Christian, some fundamental Catholic beliefs. Saint Ignatius was a successor to Saint Peter as Bishop of Antioch in Syria. Antioch is an ancient ecclesiastical see where the followers of Christ were first called Christians. Bishop Ignatius was arrested in Antioch and, for unknown reasons, was transported across half of the empire to Rome for punishment. During this long trek, Ignatius wrote seven hastily composed letters to seven cities. He also visited with Saint Polycarp, who referenced Ignatius’ letters in a subsequent letter of his own. Ignatius’ letters, perhaps miraculously, have survived. They paint a vivid picture of first century Christianity and prove that what an educated bishop believed in 110 A.D. is essentially what Catholics believe today.

Some suffering souls have experienced the passion of Christ in the very same manner that Christ did. Stigmatists have had bloody holes pierce their palms, felt the pressure of a crown of thorns on their skull, or the pain of an open wound in their side. Such re-livings of the passion show an advanced spirituality and detailed meditation on Christ’s final hours. The earliest Christian martyrs, such as today’s saint, speak more generally. They want to offer their entire lives as a holocaust or to be ground like wheat in the jaws of lions. They want to emulate the Son of God in emptying themselves in an ultimate witness. Only later saints endured physically parallel sufferings to those of Christ. The original martyrs were just open to dying. Period.

Ignatius wrote in such explicit language about the Holy Eucharist, the Catholic Church, and the importance of bishops that modern Protestants have sought to cast doubt on the authenticity of his letters or, at a minimum, on their ancient pedigree. Yet there is no reason to doubt Ignatius’ words or when he wrote them, and neither the early Church historian Eusebius nor the fourth century Saint Jerome doubted Ignatius. Ignatius was the first to use the word “Catholic” in reference to the Church: “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” He repeatedly understands the bishop as the image of God the Father, telling the faithful to “defer to him, or, rather, not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of all men.” Ignatius had a balanced Christology: “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God…” He understands the Eucharist as literally the flesh of Christ. Writing against heretics he states: “They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ… Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again.”

Like Saints Polycarp and Maximilian Kolbe, Ignatius became what he celebrated, a living sacrifice offered to the Father. His body became the offering, a Roman amphitheater the church, the blood-soaked sand his marble floor, the spectators his congregation, and the cacophony of screams of bloodlust the sacred music that guided him in his last liturgical act, the gift of himself as he was torn apart by the powerful jaws of lions. Although Ignatius’ body was ripped to pieces, some few bones were picked out of the grains of sand and brought back to Antioch. They are now found in the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, your courageous acceptance of your impending martyrdom was an inspiration to your fellow Christians then and remains an inspiration today. Give all who seek your intercession just a small portion of your steely courage in the face of real danger.

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