When we think of Jesus, it strikes me that we tend to focus on the apostle and the disciples of Jesus without really asking ourselves about what happened next. Once Jesus had ascended, the apostles went out preaching, but we rarely focus on how the church then began to take shape. If fact, we see that there were particular cities that became centers for the Christian faith. Some we know well like Jerusalem and Rome. Other are not so familiar to us.
Among the cities that were the centers for the nascent Christian faith in those early centuries was Antioch. The city was founded by one of the generals of Alexander the Great. During the Roman period it became a kind of eastern capitol for the empire, and there a significant Christian community developed.
Today is the feast day of the third bishop of the city, Ignatius. It is said that Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John, and that Peter himself named Ignatius to be bishop of the city after the death of his predecessor, St. Evodius around the year 67. He was sentenced to be eaten by lions at the Colosseum in Rome.
For us today, what remains are the letter which is wrote while on his way from Antioch to Rome. These letters give us a glimpse at how the early church lived, led by be the successors of the apostles in the strictest use of the phrase lived. We speak of the "one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church." His letters help us to understand more fully what that meant in daily life. We see in them the importance of church structure and the centrality of the Eucharist. And we also see the use of the word "Catholic" to describe the Church.
Twenty centuries later, we are now the generation entrusted with the faith for which Ignatius and so many others died. As they look down from their place in heaven, I would hope that they are pleased with what they see. May our leaders today show the same courage.