All of you must become a unity. Let there be no divisions in your hearts. When I was among you I cried at the top of my voice, with the very voice of God: “Be united with the bishop, the priests and the deacons.”
Some people thought I cried like this because I foresaw a schism. He for whose sake I am in chains is my witness that I did not speak in that way because anyone had given me such a warning. I had simply been listening to the Spirit proclaiming:
“Do nothing without the bishop! Keep your body as a temple of God! Love unity, avoid factions! Be imitators of Jesus Christ, as Jesus Christ is of the Father! [cf. 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 11:1]
With such an aim I have done all I could, as one destined to the service of unity. God does not dwell where there are divisions and bad feeling. I exhort you: never give way to a quarrelsome spirit, but always carry out the teaching of Christ.
Jesus Christ is my criterion. Unassailable grounds of judgment for me are his cross, his death, his resurrection and the faith that comes from him. Ignatius of Antioch, To the Philadelphians (quoted in Drinking From the Hidden Fountain).
Today is the Feast of Ignatius of Antioch, who was born in modern day Syria in around 50 A.D., and died in Rome around 117 A.D. He was the third bishop of Antioch, which was then one of the centers of Christianity. He studied under John the Apostle. We don’t know a lot about him, because his ministry occurred so early in the history of the faith. We know about him principally through the seven letters he wrote that scholars consider to be authentic.
He wrote at a time when being a Christian was a dangerous choice, and was accused of treason by the Emperer himself. He was a bishop, an apostle and a martyr for the faith. As we can tell from today’s reading, the subject of the unity of the faithful was a common theme in his writings.
As I read this piece, I was struck by the notion that our divisions as Christians begin with our being divided as individuals. Most often, our petty disagreements arise from our competing loyalties to Christ and the world. When we are truly focussed on Jesus, the cross, and our faith, most of our divisions fade away. I pray we will someday learn to set aside our egos and live as the one body we are called to become.
Jesus knew how difficult this would be for us. Thus he prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” I pray for the day when all God’s children become one in love.
God watch over thee and me,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2012 James R. Dennis