Readers of this blog have, through the years, found many a reference to St. Ignatius Loyola, for whom I have a rather unbounded admiration. Equally unbounded is my admiration for today's St. Ignatius, the early (I mean early!) martyr and bishop of Antioch--at the time, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. The ink was barely dry on the pages of the New Testament when Ignatius was condemned to death as a leader of the illegal religious group known as Christians. It wasn't enough for Rome to dispatch him in Antioch: this "pestilential sect" was known to have spread across the Empire. Ignatius, a revered overseer (the literal meaning of the word for bishop) would be made an example and a warning. So he was led in chains across half the Roman world, knowing that at the end of his journey he would be thrown to ravenous beasts in an arena filled with screaming and bloodthirsty spectators.
Following the example of the often-imprisoned St. Paul, Ignatius wrote letters all the way to Rome. Fabulous letters. Seven of them have come down to us: to the Philippians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans...even the Philadelphians! These letters show us the caliber of the man about to face death for Christ. He was more than a brave and wise "overseer" of the Church of Antioch: he was a mystic whose whole focus was on being made one with Christ--even if it was "the teeth of wild beasts" that would "grind [him], the wheat of Christ, into pure bread." He begged the Romans not to show him "untimely charity" by attempting to have him released: he could practically hear the Spirit within him like murmuring water, saying "Come to the Father."