Fridays with the Fathers: June 11, 2021
And pray without ceasing on behalf of other men. For there is in them hope of repentance that they may attain to God. See, then, that they be instructed by your works, if in no other way. Be meek in response to their wrath, humble in opposition to their boasting: to their blasphemies return your prayers; in contrast to their error, be stedfast Colossians 1:23 in the faith; and for their cruelty, manifest your gentleness. While we take care not to imitate their conduct, let us be found their brethren in all true kindness; and let us seek to be followers of the Lord (who ever more unjustly treated, more destitute, more condemned?), that so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but you may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit. –Saint Ignatius of Antioch
Saint Ignatius of Antioch is probably the earliest of the Church Fathers, and is one of the Apostolic Fathers since he likely knew and interacted with the apostles. Born in the middle of the first century, and dying at the beginning of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch provides a picture of the early Church where already we see some of the things that we see as connected to the Church today. Much of his later life was spent in chains as a prisoner.
This quote from Ignatius of Antioch is one that is both quite challenging and at the same time quite appropriate for today. The first thing Ignatius tells us is that we should pray without ceasing, which is also an invitation from Saint Paul. One way the Church lives up to that invitation today is by praying the liturgy of the hours, and priests and deacons today promise to pray the liturgy of the hours upon their ordination. The US bishops’ website provides a good overview of the Liturgy of the Hours. If you are interested in praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you can do so online with ibreviary.org.
But even if you are not one to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, you can still “pray without ceasing.” One easy way to do this if you carry a smart phone is to set random alarms throughout the day where you stop to say a short prayer when the go off. You could also leave yourself random notes that remind you to pray in various locations around your house.
The challenging part of what Ignatius writes concerns those who are not treating him well, and by extension, those who are not treating Christians well. We all have people in our lives who are not kind to us. The temptation is, of course, to respond to them in the same way. But Ignatius does not do this. Rather, he sees that it is quite important to, as Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians to have the same attitude as the one Christ had. Consider these phrases:
Be meek in response to their wrath.
[Be] humble in opposition to their boasting.
To their blasphemies return your prayers.
I do not know about you, but I find it so difficult not to act like those who make me angry. They argue, I want to argue. They mock, I want to mock. They insult, I want to insult. But I also know that it is often better to take a different approach. I should be meek. I should be humble. I should listen and seek to understand. I should attempt to discover what values might underlie what it is they say and about which they are arguing. Ignatius exhorts us let us seek to be followers of the Lord and to remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.
Of course, this is not easy. If it were, we all would readily do it. But if you are like me you like to win. You like to prove others wrong. You might rather talk than listen. And you might seek action over contemplation. But the way we know we are on the right track is to compare ourselves to the love of Jesus. How do we measure up when we think of Jesus Christ? As we ponder the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, let us also ask him to pray on our behalf, so that in all we do we might remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit.