Today is the feast day of St Ignatius of Antioch. Who is, coincidentally, my patron and has played a key part in my spiritual life. His prayers are very powerful indeed. And St James would agree with me (James 5:16).
In fact, today, if the majority of our sources are correct, marks the 1900th anniversary of St Ignatius' martyrdom. That is an extraordinary thought.
To mark the occasion, I read over once more this morning St Ignatius' epistle to the Romans, which he wrote on his way to be martyred in the Coliseum. I was challenged yet again by the eagerness and joy with which he approached his impending death. 'Only then,' he says, 'shall I be truly a man.' 'I am God's wheat,' he writes a little further on, 'ground by the lions' teeth to become pure bread for Christ.'
Every time I read such words, every time I try to imagine what it must have been like, the concrete reality of it, to have one's flesh torn by lions, to be mauled to death in front of a crowd for their entertainment- and the deeper spiritual reality of it, to be joined to Christ in death, to spill one's blood literally (he would have seen it staining the ground with his last sight, seen it on the snouts of the lions as they continued to tear at him) for the sake of Christ, it bowls me over. I step back, awed.
That such a man exists is amazing to me. That such a man is praying for me is too wonderful for words. That Christ desires to make me into such a man is terrifying.
But He does desire it. His grace is sufficient for it. And it is precisely that that St Ignatius prays for me.