On yesterday’s Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, the optional reading was a fine and appropriate one, John 12:24-26. But the quote above (Jn 6:54) was the one that immediately came to my mind. Why? One of the most famous statements of Ignatius’s, almost always excerpted on this day, which he wrote in one of his seven letters to a disciple and various communities, this one to Rome, on the way to his death. is the following:
“I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread.”
This reminded me of Jn 6:54 because of something that gets lost in translation in this passage from the Bread of Life discourse. Here Jesus more strongly emphasizes the reality (not merely a symbol) and necessity of the Eucharist by using the term “chewing” or “gnawing” where we read “eats.” So when we hear Ignatius speaking of being “ground by [the lions’] teeth” to “become Christ’s pure bread” the imagery makes the connection between the two excerpts very clear. Just as Christ offers Himself to us in a real and substantial way in Holy Communion, the culmination of the re-presentation of His sacrifice on Calvary, so Ignatius offered himself completely (in body and soul) to Jesus as a sacrifice. Ignatius prayed that his suffering and death would make a pleasing offering to the Lord; undoubtedly it did as today he is known as Saint Ignatius. But it goes further. As Tertullian said in his Apologeticus, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Ignatius’s example, followed by many before him and many more since, makes it clear that offering ourselves completely to Jesus has far reaching implications for the Kingdom of God as well.