17 October 2012

St Ignatius of Antioch, a martyr of the second century, and Shahbaz Bhatti of Pakistan, a martyr of the 21st

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St Ignatius of Antioch (c.35 - c.108), Feast Day, 17 October

Gospel for the Feast of St Ignatius of Antioch (John 12:24-26, RSV CE)

Jesus said to his disciples: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also; if any one serves me, the Father will honor him.

From  the Letter of St Ignatius to the Romans, extracts from today's Office of Readings

Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God . . .

My desire is to belong to God . . .

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 . . .

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.

I was very struck by the similarities between the Letter to the Romans of the second century martyr-bishop St Ignatius and the spiritual testament of a Pakistani Catholic politician assassinated last year, Shahbaz Bhatti.

(9 September 1968 - 2 March 2011)

Since I was a child, I was accustomed to going to church and finding profound inspiration in the teachings, the sacrifice, and the crucifixion of Jesus. It was his love that led me to offer my service to the Church. The frightening conditions into which the Christians of Pakistan had fallen disturbed me. I remember one Good Friday when I was just thirteen years old: I heard a homily on the sacrifice of Jesus for our redemption and for the salvation of the world. And I thought of responding to his love by giving love to my brothers and sisters, placing myself at the service of Christians, especially of the poor, the needy, and the persecuted who live in this Islamic country . . .

I do not want popularity, I do not want positions of power. I only want a place at the feet of Jesus. I want my life, my character, my actions to speak of me and say that I am following Jesus Christ. This desire is so strong in me that I consider myself privileged whenever – in my combative effort to help the needy, the poor, the persecuted Christians of Pakistan – Jesus should wish to accept the sacrifice of my life. I want to live for Christ and it is for Him that I want to die . . .

I say that, as long as I am alive, until the last breath, I will continue to serve Jesus and this poor, suffering humanity, the Christians, the needy, the poor . . .

I believe that the needy, the poor, the orphans, whatever their religion, must be considered above all as human beings. I think that these persons are part of my body in Christ, that they are the persecuted and needy part of the body of Christ. If we bring this mission to its conclusion, then we will have won a place at the feet of Jesus, and I will be able to look at him without feeling shame.


St Ignatius of Antioch is officially recognised by the Church as a martyr and his name has been included in The Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer) for many centuries. On the occasion of the first death anniversary of Shahbaz Bhatti, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Scotland asked that the possibility of his canonisation be considered. I had never heard of Shahbaz Bhatti until his death but I pray to him every day, as I believe that he has found a place at the feet of Jesus.

The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians wrote Tertullian in 197. The blood of the martyrs still cries out.

You can read an interview here with Cherrie Anderson, the Filipino-British lead-singer of Ooberfuse, who wrote and recorded this song. Cherrie tells how they came to write it. (Thanks to Campion Project.)

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