Let the Children Come to Me

Saint Ignatius, the child who Jesus blessed

The Gospels are filled with the testimonies of how the lives of all who met Jesus were transformed forever. How could anyone remain an "ordinary person" after such an encounter?

Such is the case with at least one of the children described in the Gospel of Matthew -- he whom we now honor as Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He became a disciple of Saint John the Evanglist, and in the year 69 was consecrated as the second bishop of Antioch by Saint Peter the Apostle.

In 107, during the reign of the brutal Emperor Trajan, he was sentenced to death for his refusal to renounce the Christian faith. Taken under guard to Rome, he was taken to the Circus Maximus to be thrown to the lions. On the way he visited many churches and strengthened the faithful, and the epistles he wrote during this journey have survived to the present day.

As he faced death his captors marvelled that he unceasingly repeated the Name of Jesus. Questioned by them, Saint Ignatius answered that his Name was written in his heart, and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within.

Examining his body after the lions killed him, the pagans found his heart untouched. Cutting it open they saw inscribed in his heart the letters "Jesus Christ." His relics now reside in the Church of San Clemente in Rome.

Byzantine icons show Saint Ignatius in his episcopal vestments, flanked by two ferocious lions. Western portraits also show him in his vestments, holding his heart.