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Ignatius of Antioch by Fr. Reid

In 07 Observation on 2011/09/16 at 1:00 AM

The Church remembers one of the great martyrs of the ancient Church: Ignatius of Antioch, who was thrown to wild animals by the Emperor Trajan in 107.

Ignatius studied under  John the Evangelist, and he was appointed to be one of the first bishops of Antioch by Peter. Ignatius is also known as the first person to refer to the community of believers established by Jesus as the “Catholic” Church.

As bishop of Antioch  Ignatius was a very strong and courageous leader, especially amidst persecution. He worked tirelessly to strengthen the members of his church during persecutions so that they would not fail to stay true to our Catholic faith.

Eventually, the Emperor Trajan decided to arrest and execute Ignatius, and he ordered that Ignatius be shackled to ten soldiers and marched from Antioch to Rome for the execution, which was a very considerable distance.

During this trek, which took many weeks, Ignatius was savagely treated by his captors. Yet he never wavered in his faith or in his prayers. Eyewitnesses all report that he died valiantly in the Coliseum in Rome, a model of Christian perseverance.

Christian perseverance is the theme of our readings today. If we listen closely to the readings we find that there are two key components to Christian perseverance: perseverance in prayer and perseverance in faith.

Augustine once said in a homily: “In order to pray, let us believe; and for our faith not to weaken, let us pray. Faith causes prayer to grow, and when prayer grows our faith is strengthened.”

Augustine’s point is that the action of prayer and the virtue of faith are inextricably linked to one another. It takes faith to pray, but our faith is nourished and strengthened by prayer.

So if we wish to persevere in prayer, we must have faith. And if we wish to persevere in faith, we must pray.

Prayer is the greatest hallmark of a Christian. It is our lifeblood. Prayer is how we most concretely practice our faith. It is how we commune with Him whom we follow. And without prayer, we cannot hope to attain the goal of our faith: Heaven.

It important that we truly understand the power of our prayer. Our prayer is the mechanism God has chosen to enact His will upon the earth. Our Lord has a divine plan, a divine will for each of us and for all of creation, and our prayer is the spiritual force that helps to bring about His will.

It’s not that our prayers change God, but they do act as a spiritual lever to bring about His will. As a loving Father, He listens to our prayers intently, and He answers them according to His will.

But more importantly, when we pray with faith, our prayer has the power to change us and to make us more the men and women our Lord has called us to be.

And prayer strengthens our faith. The very act of praying presupposes our human limitations and our dependence on God. Praying shows our desire to rely on something greater than ourselves, opening us up to a stronger belief in that Something Greater.

By praying we are showing that God we trust Him, that we need Him, and that we wish to give ourselves to Him as His children. It is an act of humility and, hopefully, of gratitude.

Through our prayer we come into a mysterious dialogue with the Lord. We come into communion with Him. And as we persist in our prayer, our prayer begins to change such that it is no longer we who are praying, but it is God who is praying within us.

In short, when we persevere in our prayer, our faith is strengthened – even if certain prayers are not answered as we want them to be – because persistent prayer opens us up to a deeper knowledge of God’s abiding and overwhelming love for us.

Persistent prayer reveals God’s will to us, and we begin to recognize that we are but a small part of a much larger plan, which makes it easier for us to let go of our own desires in lieu of His – even if our desires be good desires.

And as our faith in God grows stronger, so does our prayer life. As faith grows our prayers to God become more fervent and confident, and our willingness to continue praying even when it seems we are getting nothing back from God is strengthened.

Excerpted from Fr. Reid

Copyright 2010 by Reverend Timothy S. Reid

Reverend Reid is pastor of St. Ann’s Catholic  Church in Charlotte, NC and a convert to the Catholic Church

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