Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Today’s feast | Today’s readings: Philippians 3:17-4:1 / Psalm 34 / John 12:24-26

St. Ignatius was a convert to Christianity who eventually became the bishop of Antioch. During his time in Antioch, the Emperor Trajan began persecuting the Church there and forced people to choose between death and denying the faith. Ignatius would have none of that, so he was placed in chains and brought to Rome for execution. During the long journey, he wrote to many of the churches. These letters famously encouraged the Christians there to remain faithful and to obey their superiors.

Obedience was a strong theme for Ignatius, who was very concerned about Church unity. He felt that unity could best be achieved by all being obedient to the bishop and acting in harmony with one another, living the Gospel that had been proclaimed to them. Perhaps the most famous of his letters, though, was the final one in which he exhorted the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his execution. He said to them, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

How well Ignatius knew the writings of St. Paul as we heard from the letter to the Philippians today. Paul rightly reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven. Whatever we have to suffer in these days, we must remember that we are not home yet. We still have the Kingdom of God to look forward to, and we must never be deterred from our journey to get there. Ignatius knew that the way for him to be with Christ was through the martyrdom he would have to suffer, and he did not want to be deterred from going through it.

Ignatius was that grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died, only to become a stalk that bore much fruit. We too must be willing to die to ourselves, letting go of hurts and the pains this life can bring us, so that we might merit the everlasting crown of heaven. Our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is no less real, and we must be willing to suffer it in order to be with Christ. In today’s Eucharist, may we too be ready to offer the libation of pouring out our lives and being ground into the great wheat of the Body of Christ.