Saint Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, was the disciple of Saint John the Evangelist. Believing that the Church on earth should resemble that of the heavenly Jerusalem of which Saint John wrote in his Apocalypse, he established singing in choirs in his church at Antioch, after a vision of the celestial choirs who sang in that manner. When the emperor Domitian persecuted the Church, Saint Ignatius obtained peace for his own flock by fasting and prayer, although for his own part he desired to suffer with Christ, and to prove himself a perfect disciple.
The Roman emperors often visited Antioch, one of the cities of first importance of the empire. In 107, the eighth year of the reign of the emperor Trajan, he came to Antioch and forced the Christians to choose between apostasy and death. Saint Ignatius, who had already governed that church for forty years, continued to fortify it against apostasy, and did not flee. Arrested and brought before the emperor, the latter addressed him: Who are you, poor devil, to set our commands at naught? Call not poor devil, Ignatius answered, one who bears God within him. And when the emperor asked him what he meant by that, Ignatius explained that he bore in his heart Christ, crucified for his sake. Change your ideas, and I will make you a priest of the great Jupiter, and you will be called father’ by the Senate. What could such honors matter to me, a priest of Christ, who offer Him every day a sacrifice of praise, and am ready to offer myself to Him also? To whom? To that Jesus who was crucified by Pontius Pilate? Yes, and with whom sin was crucified, and the devil, its author, vanquished.
The questions and the courageous replies continued for a time that day and also on the following one. Saint Ignatius said, I will not sacrifice; I fear neither torments nor death, because I desire to go quickly to God. Thereupon the emperor condemned him to be torn to pieces by wild beasts in Rome. Saint Ignatius blessed God, who had so honored him, binding him in the same chains as Paul, His apostle. When his people wept, he told them to place their hope in the sovereign Pastor, who never abandons His flock. On passing through the city of Smyrna, he exhorted the faithful, who were grieved at his fate, to remain true to Christ until death, and he gave some of them who were going to Rome a letter for the Christians of the capital of the Christian world. This letter is still extant. He writes: I fear your charity, I fear you have an affection too human for me. You might prevent me from dying, but by so doing, you would oppose my happiness. Suffer me to be immolated while the altar is ready; give thanks to God… If when I arrive among you I should have the weakness to seem to have other sentiments, do not believe me; believe only what I am writing to you now. This letter of Saint Ignatius has encouraged all generations of Christians in their combats.
He journeyed to Rome, guarded by soldiers, and with no fear but of losing the martyr’s crown. Three of his disciples, who accompanied him and were eyewitnesses of the spectacle, wrote the acts of his martyrdom: His face shining with joy, he reassured them as the lions were released, saying: I am the wheat of Christ, I will be ground by the teeth of the beasts and made into flour to be a good bread for my Lord Jesus Christ! He was devoured by lions in the Roman amphitheater. The wild beasts left nothing of his body except a few bones, which were reverently treasured at Antioch until their removal in the year 637 to the Church of Saint Clement in Rome. After the martyr’s death, several Christians saw him in vision, in prayer to Christ, and interceding for them.
Reflection. Ask Saint Ignatius to obtain for you the grace of profiting by all you have to suffer, and rejoicing in it as a means of likeness to your crucified Redeemer.
Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 2; Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894)
Saint Bridgid Abbess and Patroness of Ireland (436-523)
Next to the glorious Saint Patrick, Saint Bridgid, whom we may regard as his spiritual daughter in Christ, has ever been held in singular veneration in Ireland. She was born about the year 453, at Fochard in Ulster. During her infancy, her pious father saw in a vision men clothed in white garments pouring a sacred unguent on her head, thus prefiguring her future sanctity. While still very young, Bridgid consecrated her life to God, bestowed everything at her disposal on the poor, and was the edification of all who knew her.
Saint Bridgid was very beautiful, and fearing that efforts might be made to induce her to break the vow by which she had bound herself to God, she prayed that she might become ugly and deformed. Her prayer was heard, for her eye became swollen, and her whole countenance so changed that she was allowed to follow her vocation in peace, and marriage with her was no more thought of. When about twenty years old, our Saint made known to the nephew and disciple of Saint Patrick, Saint Mel, her intention to live only for Jesus Christ, and he consented to receive her sacred vows. On the appointed day, the solemn ceremony of her profession was performed according to the manner introduced by Saint Patrick, the bishop offering up many prayers, and investing Bridgid with a snow-white habit, and a cloak of the same color. While she bowed her head on this occasion to receive the veil, a miracle of a singularly striking and impressive nature occurred: The section of the wooden platform adjoining the altar on which she knelt, recovered its original vitality and put on all its former verdure, retaining it for a long time afterwards. At the same moment Bridgid’s eye was healed, and she became beautiful once again.
Encouraged by her example, several other young persons made vows, and in compliance with the wish of the parents of her new associates, the Saint agreed to found a religious residence for all of them in the vicinity. When a site was chosen by the bishop, a convent, the first in Ireland, was erected upon it; and in obedience to the prelate Bridgid assumed the superiority. Her reputation for sanctity became greater every day; and in proportion as it was diffused throughout the country, the candidates for admission into the new monastery increased in number. The bishops of Ireland, soon perceiving the important advantages which their own dioceses would derive from such foundations, persuaded the young and saintly abbess to visit different parts of the kingdom, and, when an opportunity was offered, they introduced branches of her institute everywhere.
While she was in the province of Connaught, a deputation arrived from Leinster to solicit the Saint to take up her residence in that territory; the prospect of the many spiritual advantages which would result induced her to accede to their wishes. Taking with her a number of her spiritual daughters, she journeyed to Leinster, where they were received with many demonstrations of respect and joy. At the site on which Kildare now stands, Saint Bridgid and her companions took up residence. Bridgid contrived out of their small means to relieve the poor of the vicinity very considerably; and when the wants of these indigent persons surpassed her slender finances, she did not hesitate to sacrifice for them the movables of the convent. On one occasion, imitating the burning charity of Saint Ambrose and other great servants of God, she sold some of the sacred vestments in order to procure the means of relieving their necessities. The renown of Bridgid’s unbounded charity drew multitudes of the poor to Kildare; the fame of her piety attracted to the region many persons anxious to solicit her prayers or to profit by her holy example.
In time the number of her followers and admirers increased so greatly that it became necessary to provide accommodation for them in the neighborhood of the new monastery, and thus were laid the foundations of the town of Kildare. There an episcopal see was erected, which eventually became the ecclesiastical metropolis of the province to which it belonged.
Saint Bridgid died after seventy years devoted to the practice of the most sublime virtues, during which her holy institute had become widely diffused throughout the Green Isle, and had greatly advanced the cause of religion in the various districts where it was established. Like a river of peace, its progress was steady and silent; it fertilized all the regions fortunate enough to receive its waters, and caused them to put forth spiritual flowers and fruits with all the sweet perfume of evangelical fragrance.
The day on which the holy nun was to terminate her course, February 1, 523, having arrived, she received from the hands of a saintly priest the blessed Body and Blood of her Lord in the divine Eucharist, and passed to the eternal vision of the God she had always adored. Her body was interred in the church adjoining her convent, but later was exhumed and deposited in a splendid shrine near the high altar, afterwards to be moved again and placed in the same grave with the relics of the glorious Saint Patrick. Their holy remains, together with those of Saint Columba, were translated afterwards to the cathedral church of Kildare.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).