Thomas Griffin 4/13/22
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St. Ignatius of Antioch was a beloved priest and bishop who loved his flock and lived to celebrate the Sacraments, especially the Sacrifice of the Mass. And yet while he was still alive, he noted that he did not view himself as a true disciple because he had not given his life for the Lord. He would say that the confession made by martyrdom would bring him into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.
Ignatius welcomed persecution as the path to becoming closer to Jesus. How do we view difficulties? Do we run from them or do we welcome them as avenues of holiness and sanctification? As we approach the end of Lent there can often be a mindset among Catholics that sacrifices are simply something to endure for a time in order for us to gain insight about something else. St. Ignatius stands as a model in the faith who personified the fact that sacrifice and suffering is a privilege not merely something to endure.
The list of what Catholics gave up for Lent can often include ice cream, chocolate, or even coffee. Giving items up in order to focus more on our life of faith is important, but what are we going to do this Lent? How will we be nailed to the cross along with Christ so that we can experience his resurrection with renewed vigor and holiness? Sacrifice is not a passive act. Renunciation requires perseverance along with our choice to run towards suffering. We do not do so in order to beat ourselves up, but so that we can be more united to Jesus.
In the time of Ignatius, Emperor Trajan declared that all citizens must offer sacrifice to the Roman gods or face death. While the emperor was staying in Antioch he commanded that Ignatius be brought to him and commanded to offer worship to idols. His refusal would lead to Ignatius being placed in chains, brought to Rome and fed to beasts in Rome. On his journey he wrote several letters to different churches that exist today as some of the earliest and most important writings outside of the Gospels.
Ignatius was not one to create desert experiences that would be practices in mental strength or spiritual asceticism. While these are goods we should strive for, his suffering was physical. Christians in the 21st century do not need to inflict pain on themselves, but we can learn from Ignatius by implementing practical sacrifices even after our Lenten pilgrimage is over.
For example, we can serve the poor by vowing to stop when we see someone in need on the side of the road during our commute. We can fast on Friday’s and donate the money we would have spent on food to our parish or someone in need. We can spend time in the outreach center of a local parish or make a daily stop at the church in order to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
What separates Catholicism from any other religion is its physicality. God took on flesh and he uses the Sacraments and our work with those in need as the continuation of his earthly ministry among us. Forming our lives so that they revolve around the Sacraments of the Church, giving of our time and money to those most in need and fasting for the salvation of souls allows us to remain crafted to the vine. All other practices during Lent and throughout the year are mere distractions that convince us that we can determine holiness on our own grounds.
These are added sacrifices that we can add to our Lenten plate, but what about discarding sinful practices in our lives that are preventing us from being courageous like Ignatius? Are our conversations at work mostly concerned with degrading others? Do we show disrespect to our loved ones or friends when we disagree with them? Is our language one that would be welcomed by the saints?
These are not naive examples of how we can practice self-help. They are the requirements for what it means to be virtuous. They are the bare minimum needed if we are to be on the path of Ignatius. If we desire to be willing to sacrifice our livelihoods or even lives for the gospel, then we ought to prepare by leading lives of deep conversion.
Ignatius did not show up one day ready to give his life for Christ. He knew Jesus as a real living person and that relationship transformed his worldview. This Lent, we are being invited to experience the same renewal as Ignatius did before he was willing to offer his life on the altar of martyrdom. The road to that type of Christian heroism begins with performing small acts of sacrifice that keep our feet on the ground and our eyes pierced on Christ.
Do not give into the distractions as we enter Holy Week and the Easter season. Be consumed by offering it all to Christ, then your desert experience will bring new life.
Thomas Griffin teaches in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and son.
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