Today the Catholic church celebrates the memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was chosen as the second bishop of Antioch around the year 60 AD and led that diocese (by that time the most important in the Middle East) for forty years.
Ignatius, often called “Godbearer,” incurred the wrath of the Roman Emperor for failing to offer patriotic sacrifices to the Roman gods and was condemned to be thrown to wild beasts in the public arena in Rome. Although many Christian groups tried to get his death sentence commuted, that was not his desire. For Ignatius, martyrdom was a way of demonstrating total devotion to God. Father Robert McNamara writes:
“Suffer me to be the food of wild beasts,” [Ignatius] said, “through whom I may attain to God!”
His desire was not thwarted. Ground by the teeth of the animals, he became as he had hoped to be, the “pure bread of Christ!” “Let me be food for the wild beasts, through whom I can reach God. I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may prove to be pure bread.”
I’m always moved by the stories of the early martyrs. They displayed a courage that I’m not sure I have. Perhaps it is that their faith is stronger than mine. I suspect I’d have been quite relieved at people sending letters trying to stave off the emperor’s tossing me to wild beasts.
For me, saints like Ignatius are an inspiration. Like a kid saying, “When I grow up I want to be _____”, I aspire to Ignatius’ courage and faith.