Thrown to the Lions
St. Ignatius of Antioch (bishop and martyr) was an important bishop who suffered martyrdom early in the second century.
He was born in Syria. According to legend, he was the child whom Jesus placed in the midst of His disciples to teach them humility (cf. Mt 18:1-4). More reliable are the stories that state he was a disciple of the apostles Saints Peter and Paul, and/or St. John.
Ignatius became the second or third bishop of Antioch, an important Syrian city and a major center of early Christianity. During a persecution when Christians were ordered to deny their faith under pain of death, Ignatius, by then an old man, refused to do so. He was a well-known Christian, so he was sentenced to die in Rome itself.
On the journey to Rome he was escorted by a squad of soldiers. He referred to them as the “ten leopards,” and noted that their behavior “gets worse the better they are treated.” During this persecution, he wrote seven famous letters or epistles. Six of them were letters of exhortation to various Christian communities, and the seventh was a letter of pastoral advice to St. Polycarp (Feast day February 23), whom he met shortly after his arrest.
In his writings Ignatius urged the Christian communities to remain faithful to their bishops, because this was essential to preventing heresy and division, and to keeping the house, the Church, standing strong. In his letter to the Christians of Rome, Ignatius begged them not to work for his release, for he deeply desired to die as a witness to the faith.
When Ignatius arrived in Rome around the year 107, he was thrown to the lions in the Coliseum, and met his death bravely as a martyr for the Lord and His Church.
From Johnnette Benkovic’s Graceful Living: Meditations to Help You Grow Closer to God Day by Day
No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the furthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest.— From a letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch
Dear Lord, St. Ignatius of Antioch was ready to be torn apart by a lion rather than to be separated from you. In light of his zeal, my own fervor is so weak. Give me courage and strength to proclaim your Truth no matter the cost. Heal me in those areas where I am weak. Fill me with your divine love. And renew me in faith and hope. I pray this in the name of Jesus my Lord. Amen. St. Ignatius, pray for me.
image: Rijksmuseum / Public domain