St Ignatius of Antioch

(in Turkey) Bishop and Martyr (entered heaven in 107)

Dear Nacho,

I understand your consternation.  Liturgical oddities and deviations from Church norms can cause confusion and division, if nothing worse.  But the solution does not lie in publicly criticizing your bishop.  Not all bishops are saints, and some may even betray their sacred trust (like Judas), but they are still bishops, souls chosen by God to pastor his people.  Be confident in God; be grateful that the Pope and the bishops in union with him bear the divine guarantee that they will never lead the Church astray.  Let your love for the Church and your confidence in God guide your own words and actions, and never give in to the temptation of destructive criticism.  Make the extra effort to speak and act positively, bringing light into the darkness and not just chasing shadows.

You know well the story of St Ignatius of Antioch, disciple of John the Evangelist and for forty years exemplary pastor of the important Christian community in Antioch – at least, you should know it well, since I told it to you in great detail when we were in Rome together, visiting the coliseum (where he was thrown to the lions and martyred).  It’s a remarkable story, really:  How he was denounced as a Christian (under the Emperor Trajan, only Christians who were publicly denounced could be punished for not worshiping the Roman gods; the officials were not supposed to go looking for them) though he was already an old man; how he eagerly submitted to the charges and suffered abuse during his long and indirect sea voyage towards execution in Rome; how he encouraged the Christians who came to see him at every port along the way, and wrote a steady stream of letters exhorting the different churches to stay true to Christ.  One of the constant motifs of those letters is his deep and passionate faith in the structure of the Church.  He never tires of referring to the bishops as the guarantee of Christian authenticity, both in doctrine and in discipline.  One would expect him to focus on the Twelve Apostles, after all, he is writing around the year 100 (so close in time to the Apostles themselves), and he himself was a disciple of St John the Evangelist, but he stresses the role of the bishops, the successors of the Twelve.   His love and religious respect for the Catholic hierarchy even at such an early stage in its development illustrates the divine origin of the Church’s structure.  In one letter he encourages the Christians at Tralles to resist heresy, “which you will do if you remain united to God, even Jesus Christ, and the bishop and the ordinances of the apostles.  He who is within the altar is clean, but he that is outside it, that is, who acts independently of the bishop, priests and deacons, is not clean.”  In a letter to the Philadelphians (not the ones in Pennsylvania), he likewise exhorts, “Use one Eucharist; for the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ is one and the cup is one, to unite us all in his blood.  There is one altar, as there is one bishop…” The Church is God’s work, and Christ acts through it.  If we want to stay close to him, we must always view the Church through the clear lens of faith.

So be humble, my dear nephew – creative and zealous in your efforts to defend and extend the Kingdom, but humble, trusting more in God and his grace than in your own good sense (though you should continue using it).  Choose your battles well, and always fight them in order to and in a such a way as to please God, not just yourself.

Always your Uncle, Eddy


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