01 February 2006

St Ignatius of Antioch

Yesterday we commemorated St Ignatius at Antioch during Holy Mass. Here is the brief homily I preached:

Our Blessed Lord Jesus never asks us to do anything that He has not already done for us, and is most willing to do in and through us.

St Ignatius knew this. So he is not engaging in rhetorical bravado when he pleads with the Romans not to do him the kindness of preventing his execution. So the holy man declares: "Let me be fodder for wild beasts--that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. ... [So] pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God's sacrifice."

St Ignatius has learned well today's Gospel. For in it, Our Lord says that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground and die, so that it may arise producing an abundant crop. The grain of wheat is Our Lord Jesus Christ. And He's talking about His death--that He must suffer and die so that, in His resurrection, all men and all creation may be re-created. For that's the only way it works: Life Himself must be swallowed by death so that those destined to die might live through death into eternal life. And that's the abundant crop--the men and women who are raised up in His resurrection. They are the abundant crop; and just as all creation is tied in with them in their death, so all creation is tied in with them in the Lord's resurrection. This rising of men and women in Christ--it is occurs chiefly in the waters of Holy Baptism. But it can also take place when they are baptized in their own blood. As was St. Ignatius--and the thousands of martyrs that have come before and after him.

Notice that St Ignatius does not describe his martyrdom baptismally--with images of water. And neither does Our Lord. Instead, following Jesus, St Ignatius speaks in terms of grain, wheat, flour and bread. And the climax are these words: "Pray that I become God's sacrifice." In other words, "pray that I'm worthy to be accepted by the Father because I'm tied into THE sacrifice, which is Our Lord Jesus."

For that's where St Ignatius finds his hope; and that's what he looks toward. Not his death, but the death of his Lord. And not the sacrifice of his body, but the self-sacrifice of God's Son who then, in His sacrifice, blesses, consecrates, approves, makes worthy and deems acceptable whatever sacrifice we bring according to the Lord's will. For our sacrifices--even our sacrifice of self--is worthless and selfish unless it is blessed by Our Lord. And so we beg the Lord to send down His Holy Spirit to bless the meager sacrifice we present--just as St Ignatius begged the Romans to pray Christ to bless the sacrifice he offered of himself.

Let us then strive, by the mercies of God, to imitate the constancy of St Ignatius' sacrifice and faith by presenting our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service. For by His grace and through the intercession of the blessed martyr, shall we then be worthy to "get to God" as this holy bishop did.

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