Saturday, October 17, 2015

Don't Stand in the Way of Martyrdom!

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Let us pray.
Almighty, ever-living God,
  the sufferings of the martyrs adorn the Church,
  which is the Body of Christ.
As we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Ignatius of Antioch,
  grant that it may be for us a constant source of strength,
  as it was for him the entry into glory.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
  who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
  one God, for ever and ever.

Much of the stuff which the secularizing media have been peddling from the Synod on the Family undermines the quest for virtue, a quest central to the Christian life. Whether from ignorance or malice they do their very best to distort the emphasis which Pope Francis in his pontificate has placed on mercy and compassion, turning it into something which is akin to the relativist or valueless approach to governance of the bulk of western democracies, a monstrosity which offers no answers to honest questions and clips the wings of even the tiniest angel who would direct us toward the light. They, the media, are promoting sound bites from hierarchs that ring very 1970's and which put us back on the "high seas" without a catechism and without a prayer. Although we should always pray for deliverance from trials, I sometimes wonder if there might actually be a grace to be found in "bottoming out" and winning over those who have lived in denial about the sad state of affairs in the Church. As wrong as it is to wish trials upon the faithful, perhaps we should do so finally in hopes of living to see the beginning of a full restoration and new flowering of the Church, please God!

Let me quote briefly from the Office Reading of the saint of the day, from the letter to the Romans of St. Ignatius of Antioch:

"The prince of this world is determined to lay hold of me and to undermine my will which is intent on God. Let none of you here help him; instead show yourselves on my side, which is also God’s side. Do not talk about Jesus Christ as long as you love this world. Do not harbour envious thoughts. And supposing I should see you, if then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you. For though I am alive as I write to you, still my real desire is to die. My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: “Come to the Father.” I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God’s bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish.
  I am no longer willing to live a merely human life, and you can bring about my wish if you will. Please, then, do me this favour, so that you in turn may meet with equal kindness. Put briefly, this is my request: believe what I am saying to you. Jesus Christ himself will make it clear to you that I am saying the truth. Only truth can come from that mouth by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God. If I am condemned to suffer, I will take it that you wish me well. If my case is postponed, I can only think that you wish me harm."

The saintly bishop begs his fellow Catholics not to interfere with the judgment of the pagan authorities which has condemned him to be thrown to the beasts in the circus at Rome upon his arrival from the east. With Ignatius as a special case, we can see how the blood of martyrs can become the seed of Christians. My prayer is that the obfuscating of our day and time might give way to the bright light of the urgency of embracing the Gospel without compromise.

Here in Switzerland, I am hoping to have time to listen and to learn; I am grateful for the many informal exchanges which are helping me to appreciate this unique reality of Church. The other day, a fine young parish priest patiently responded to my questions about the composition of his German-speaking parish. His parish is situated in a small town and rural setting with less than 7000 inhabitants equally divided in thirds of ethnic Swiss: Catholic, Protestant, and "Nothing" (unbaptized, if you will). Of his 2000 Catholics, he tells me he can count on about 150 a Sunday and maybe as many as 400 for the big feast days (Christmas, Easter, Kirchweih). His description of the non-baptized pretty well fits that of two of my dear uncles by marriage, both of whom were very devoted to my aunties, one of the men seeking baptism at age 60 and the other not ever.

That one uncle sought baptism out of love for my aunt and the other did not is no judgment on the relative merits of the two women. They were both good women and both faithful daughters of the Church. I think we all prayed equally for the baptism of these two men and as to why one responded to grace and the other did not we will leave in the merciful hands of God Who knows and sees all, understanding the hearts of men. We nieces and nephews loved both men and wished the best for both; we trembled and prayed for their eternal salvation as assured through the waters of Baptism.

Much of the relativizing talk we hear round and about the Synod, which seems to be little more than a capitulation before failures in marriage and family life, would seem to fall in the category of the misplaced compassion which might have deprived St. Ignatius of the crown of martyrdom and eternity with his beloved Lord. We owe people rather solidarity in carrying their share of the Cross of Christ.

Let us entrust today's bishops to the clear witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch and pray that we not be deprived of teaching and leadership pointing the way to heroic virtue here in this valley of tears!

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