Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Apostolic Witness

Today is Ignatius of Antioch's Saint's Day. Whether Ignatius actually knew any of the disciples we don't know. What we do know is that early in the second century, as he made his way to his death, he wrote several letters to churches in Asia. In one he said:
"I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for
Christ. 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
sakes is my one desire. The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my
brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me
stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the
world. do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light.
Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of
imitating the passion of my God."

In this morning's reading, we heard his letter written to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna who, later in the century would meet his own martyr's death. When we came to the part where Ignatius reminds his younger charge that dealing with good students is always a joy but addressing "annoying students" is what really brings out Christ in us, I definitely detected a snicker. He goes on to say something like, "Put up with everything, so that God will put up with us." The image he trots out for Polycarp is that of an anvil, able to withstand all the mighty blows struck against it.

In the wake of the canonization of all the new saints last week in Rome, one of the monks was heard to say, "Popes don't make saints--only God can do that!" Certainly God used Ignatius to not only inspire Polycarp (who became a great model of death in his old age when he was asked to "curse Christ") but to challenge us, as well. What is it that takes an ordinary person and changes him or her into such a standard-bearer for the Gospel? I don't really know, but I hope, at least, to learn to heed Ignatius' advice about being patient with annoying students.