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Friday, March 25, 2016

Ignatius of Antioch and the Way of the Cross...

St. Ignatius of Antioch...
It is one thing to say you are willing to die for your beliefs but it's another to actually do it.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the true measure of a man; having the faith and fortitude to stand up for one's beliefs, even at the risk of certain peril.

Knowing, as William Wallace put it in Braveheart, "Fight and you may die.  Run and you will live; at least awhile."

It is a quandary Christians have faced since St. Stephen was stoned to death in the Acts of the Apostles and one many are still facing today in different parts of the world.

Yet of the possibly millions of Christian martyrs around the globe during the past two thousand years, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, when he heard the man beg for his life because of his family, and the priests and faithful buried alive in Communist China, who went to their deaths singing and praising the Lord, as the dirt was thrown into their graves, there may not be a more legendary symbol of faith and courage than St. Ignatius of Antioch, the first century bishop, who was instructed in the faith by the Apostle John and was ordained a priest by the Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, one of the most important cities in early Christianity, for almost 40 years.

During the Christian persecution of the Emperor Trajan, St. Ignatius, being the leader of the Christians in Syria's capital city, was arrested and condemned to die in the Roman amphitheater.  He was chained and marched overland through Asia Minor, then put on a ship and, after various stops, finally brought to Rome to be fed to lions.

What made St. Ignatius forever woven into the fabric of Christian history is the seven letters, or epistles, he wrote to the different communities of faithful and to his loyal friend St. Polycarp (who was also later martyred), as he was being taken to his certain demise in Rome.  The letters were preserved (and still available today) and considered by some as inspired writings before the canon of the Bible was assembled.

In the letters, he dissuaded Christians to try to stop his martyrdom because he was willing to die for Christ.  In fact, he encouraged them to pray for it, "Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God."

The great Anglican convert John Henry Cardinal Newman, who led about 100 Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church, once wrote, "the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles."

St. Ignatius, who was the first to record the term, "Catholic Church," which means universal, when referring to the Christian Church of the First Century, in his writings, wrote, among other things, about Church hierarchy, the importance of the bishop in the lives of the faithful, the sacraments, and most especially, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

At this time of year, as we commemorate Good Friday and venerate the Cross and Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of the world, may we consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, most of the Apostles, St. Stephen, St. Maximilian and all the Christian martyrs through the annals of history, who have imitated Christ to the fullest by way of the Cross, in giving up their life for their faith.

As St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."...

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