Faith is not only the gift that enables us to know God intimately, but also the gift that enables us to act on that which we have come to believe and to understand. In other words, “faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (Porta Fidei, #10). This is how St. Ignatius of Antioch – whose memorial is October 17 – lived his faith in the first century.
It all started for Ignatius when he became a student of St. John the Apostle who taught the future saint to understand the juxtaposition of light and darkness or God and not-God. For St. John, and later St. Ignatius, understanding that God – the eternal light – was both the source and the summit of all existence was not only the key to understanding the meaning of all human life, but also properly describing the proper focus of it.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)
In other words, since God exists, since He alone created the universe (and us), and since everything that is not of God (evil ostensibly) cannot overcome Him, then God should be the only focus of life and all of us must dedicate our lives to Him and Him alone.
St. Ignatius, who was the third bishop of Antioch, had this kind of faith. In fact, he was killed for it. In his letter to the Romans, which he wrote while awaiting his execution, St. Ignatius asks his followers not to do anything to dissuade his captors from executing him. You see, for St. Ignatius, to be killed for his faith was not just an expression of his love and commitment to Christ, but an opportunity to leave the world, which often represents darkness.
All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. ‘For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?’ Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If anyone has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, Ch. 6)
In other words, St. Ignatius knew – and teaches us today – that in death we will attain true faith and true life, which comes only from God who is the pure light.
So, during this Year of Faith, please ask yourself this: do you understand that Christ is the light? Do you understand our entire lives are to be focused on obtaining Him who is the light? Do you ask others to assist you in seeking the light? Are you willing to be martyred for it?
Let us pray for one another that we may live our lives in the light of this kind of faith.