The gospel reading for today begins with the words of Jesus. On this occasion we are told by St. Luke that Jesus spoke first to his disciples.
As I pondered the words of Jesus I was drawn to the following sentence: "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body but after that can do no more." It seems to me that the truth of these words is demonstrated in the Life of St. Ignatius of Antioch whose feast we celebrate today.
St. Ignatius was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. As a young man he became a christian and then probably came to know several of the apostles. He was the third bishop of Antioch and carried out his duties there for 40 years. In the year 107, the Roman Emperor Trajan came to Antioch.
Trajan was persecuting christians and he seized Ignatius and had him taken in chains to Rome to be executed. In Rome he was taken to the Coliseum and devoured by lions. During his journey to Rome St. Ignatius met groups of christians at each stop. He exhorted them to remain strong in their faith, and gave them a marvelous example through his own fidelity. He was a true martyr and gave his life for his faith.
The death of St. Ignatius is a beautiful example of what Jesus meant by the words quoted above. After the death of St. Ignatius the Roman Emperor could indeed do no more. He and his soldiers could not prevent God from receiving the soul of St. Ignatius in heaven. Nor could they prevent the love and veneration of the christians who had known St. Ignatius. They could not prevent the miracles that were attributed to the intercession of St. Ignatius with almighty God. Above all the Emperor and his minions were unable to stop the spread of Christianity that was occasioned by the example of St. Ignatius. Trajan's whole purpose in ordering the death of St. Ignatius and other christians was to stop the spread of Christianity. But, ironically, their deaths not only did not stop the spread of Christianity, they further increased the spread of it.
As we reflect upon the words of Jesus and the example of St. Ignatius I think we should keep in mind that there are still martyrs in our world today. Perhaps some of you reading this have known present day martyrs. The example of their lives and heroic deaths should inspire us just as does the life of St. Ignatius of Antioch. An often repeated saying from the past is still true today. The blood of martyrs is the seed of christians.
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