Saint Ignatius of Antioch – Readings

Commentary on Philippians 3:17-4:1; Ps 33; John 12:24-26

The Gospel reading comes from John. In verses immediately preceding our reading, we are told that among those who were going up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover were “some Greeks”, referring to Gentile converts to Judaism. They approached the Apostle Philip (whose name was Greek) and said they wanted to “see Jesus”. Philip in turn went to tell his fellow-Apostle Andrew (another Greek name) and together they went to Jesus with the request.

Jesus gave them a very enigmatic answer: “Unless the grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Jesus goes on to clarify somewhat his meaning: “The man who loves his life loses it, while the man who hates his life in this world preserves it to life eternal.”

The meaning is clear enough for us now. The Greeks had asked to “see” Jesus. Presumably that is all they wanted – to lay their eyes on the man about whom they probably had heard so much. For Jesus, though, it is not enough just to see him externally. To “see Jesus” is to know and understand and totally accept is Way. And Jesus is a person who is ready to set aside his present life in this world for a life that will never end.

Jesus then goes on to say that, if anyone wants to become his follower, “let him follow me, so that where I am my servant will be”. In other words, the followers of Jesus must be ready to offer up their lives too. Is this what the Greeks mean in wanting to see Jesus?

Ignatius, for his part, shared totally the mind of Jesus and did not hesitate to sacrifice his life in this world for a better one. He, too, compared himself to a grain of wheat which would be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might become the pure bread of Christ.

The First Reading is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians. Part of this passage is also used on the Feast of the Sacred Heart. Paul prays that for the Philippians Christ may live in them through faith and that an outreaching love (agape) be the foundation of their life.

Only then will they be able to grasp “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love (agape), a love that surpasses all other forms of knowledge. With that love, we can never go wrong. For as the Scripture says elsewhere, “wherever there is love (agape), God is there”. Or, in the words of St Augustine, “Love (agape) and do what you like.”

It was this unconditional, outreaching love that governed the life of Ignatius. And one can hear him speaking to us in the words of Paul, “I plead with you, as a prisoner for the Lord, to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.”

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