Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11:42-46)

In the early 1990s an American Dominican priest working among the poor in El Salvador began to receive death threats. Determining them to be credible, the priest’s superior called him back to the United States. No doubt, the priest returned with a divided heart. He would have preferred to stay with his people, but such persistence might have cost his life. St. Ignatius of Antioch evidently had a different perspective on a similar situation.

From the letters he wrote as he traveled from Antioch to his execution in Rome, we know that Ignatius looked forward to being martyred. When it seemed that Christians might find a way to have the penalty commuted, Ignatius pleaded with them not to do so. He evidently wanted to be eaten alive by lions. It is not sacrilegious to ask whether such a stance is more pathological than pious.

Life is a good that we should generally preserve. As St. Paul hints in his letter to the Philippians, it is better that one work for Christ if possible than unite with him in death. Still life is not the greatest good. That distinction belongs to God alone. Obviously, Ignatius found enough glory being given to God in his martyrdom to make the sacrifice of his life for it a worth exchange.