One of the great qualities of saints is that, while they do heroic things, they don’t bring attention to themselves. Today, as we celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, we have a wonderful example of this. Famous for telling his followers, "I am Christ's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of the beasts so that I may become Christ's pure bread,” Ignatius begged his friends not to try to stop his martyrdom. So confident that the Lord would protect him, the saint knew the strength he received from God would be a sign to others of God’s unconditional love. At the same time, as one reads further in Ignatius' letter, there is a hesitancy, a moment of fear perhaps. He says, "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 now."
Most of us, while admiring Ignatius’ faith, would be more likely to tell our friends to ignore our craziness in seeking martyrdom and write it off as the dream of a madman. Because we are afraid of the unknown and more concerned with the life we have and know, even if it is full of pain and confusion, we hesitate thinking about and asking God for the grace of a peaceful death, much less a martyr’s death. In fact, most of us think Jesus is talking only to foolish rich people when he says, "You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God." Amazingly, we often cling to the little we have rather than remember God’s mercy and throw ourselves upon him.
There are, of course, very good reasons for this. Some of you are parents of young children and can’t imagine your kids growing up without you. Others are grandparents who think having grandchildren is giving you a second chance, especially if you spent more time working and obsessing about work than you did with your children. Even more grand, some may be spending your lives working in a not for profit company that feeds the hungry and clothes the naked, and wonder who will do this marvelous work if you can’t. In all of this, of course, we fail to honor God when our excuses suggest that God cannot do God’s work without us. While understandable, it is not a gospel principle to act as if everything depended on us.
St. Paul reminds us that Abraham, like Ignatius, “was empowered by faith and gave glory to God and was fully convinced that what God had promised he was also able to do.” (Rom 4:21) When we become convinced that God’s love is complete, unconditional and unearned, we begin to realize with Abraham and Ignatius that we can do all things “in him who strengthens us,” even let go of life itself for the sake of God’s reign.
Today, ask for the humility to let God be God and to trust that God's grace will be enough even when we face death.