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Monday, October 5, 2009

Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Feast Day: October 17 formerly February 1

Early Career

St. Ignatius of Antioch also known as Theophorus ("God-Bearer”), had been fully instructed in the doctrines of Christianity by the disciple St. John the Apostle. Ignatius was chosen to be Bishop of Antioch and for more than 40 years, he continued in his charge at Antioch, proving himself in every way an exemplary pastor.

Vigilant and Faithful Servant

In 107 AD, Emperor Trajan, puffed up with his late victory over the Scythians and Dacians and feeling he owed his victories to the pagan gods, authorized the death penalty for those Christians who refused to acknowledge these divinities publicly.

Bishop Ignatius was ordered taken to Rome to be devoured by wild beasts in the Colosseum. On the way, a journey which took months and brought him through Asia Minor and Greece, he wrote letters of inspiration and instruction to Christians - exhorting them to keep in harmony with their bishops and other clergy as well as to continue their zeal against heresy. The bishop was dedicated to defending the true teaching handed down by the Apostles in order for the early Christian communities not to be led astray by false teachings. Ignatius encourages them to assemble often in prayer, to be meek and humble and to suffer injuries without protest. Bishop Ignatius was also the first who used the term “catholic” to describe the whole Church.

For a great part of the journey, Ignatius had 2 companions - a deacon, Philo, and a friend, Agathopus - supposedly the authors of an account of his martyrdom.

Total Self-Giving to God

Wherever the ship put in, the faithful gathered to receive benediction and rejoiced in his presence. During this time, Christianity had a number of influential converts that could have intervened or mitigated the punishment but Ignatius prevented the Christians from taking steps to obtain his release.

Below is a letter to the Romans by St Ignatius of Antioch

“I am God's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of wild animals. I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God. No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sake is my one desire”.

Upon arriving in Rome, Ignatius was hurried off to the Colosseum and died a martyr’s death.


*At the time when he was supposed to be thinking of himself and of his impending death, he was selfless - totally given to God and to men. Just like Jesus, Ignatius is a good shepherd, tending his flock and becoming even more productive in his last days, sending out letters of encouragement and instructions to the early Christian communities.

* His martyrdom was the culmination of a life that is lived conformed to Jesus Christ.

Please feel free to share your reflections or insights on the comment box below. You can also share your idea on what is a saint. Thank you and God bless!

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  1. A careful look at St Ignatius' life reveals him as a truly meaningful saint for our times today. By using 'Theophorus' (God-bearer) as his 2nd name, Ignatius reveals a significant aspect of his spirituality, i.e. one that points to a very strong sense of being inhabited by God. Amidst the brutal persecution leveled at the early Christians, Ignatius' sense of God dwelling in him enabled him to face courageously his coliseum. On his way to his death at the coliseum, he encourages Polycarp to keep his eyes fixed on this God Who is above all time, on Him Who is the eternal One. He forewarns Polycarp that a noble athlete, although wounded, will yet conquer; and he exhorts the early Christians to retain their hope of a new life by keeping their eyes fixed on Jesus Crucified, died and risen.
    Today, while we no longer are subjected to the brutal persecutions suffered by the early Christians, we do have our own trials and difficulties in life, sometimes just as heavy, brutal and painful. We suffer through heart-rending misunderstandings, through malicious persecutions at work, family problems, all kinds of hunger, poverty and loneliness ...
    Ignatius tells us today to remember that we are never alone, that we are inhabited by God, that as we face our coliseums in life, we are to keep our eyes fixed on Our Lord Who is above all time, on Him Who is eternal and invisible, yet became visible in Jesus Christ to give us a model of how to retain our hope of a new life. In the wake of life's sufferings and pains, we have these golden opportunities of uniting ourselves to Jesus in His sufferings and pains which prove His love for us. Our sufferings and pains can also prove our love for Him and enable us besides, to reach Him Who dwells within us.
    Like Ignatius, we have our coliseums, too. And oftentimes, our choices, dominated by pride and ambition, create many of our coliseums in life. Yes, we create all kinds of coliseums for ourselves and for others around us. Like Ignatius, we must not flee from our coliseums; we must face them head-on, aware that we are God-bearers, inhabited by God, armed with His grace, and are on our journey towards Jesus. All of our coliseums have the potential of drawing us away from the Lord, or of bringing us closer to Him. Whether our coliseums are created by us or by others, we always have the choice of using them to reach Our Lord Who dwells within us.

  2. Thank you for sharing your reflection and for looking at the life of St Ignatius in a way that is still applicable and relevant to our present situation.