Things are warming up in Rome (as they are everywhere…70+ here the past couple of days) – the General Audience was outdoors, and the Pope continued his catechesis on great figures of the early Church, taking Ignatius of Antioch this time.
Theresa at PRF has a translation of the whole talk up (scroll down). After introducing us to the basics of the life of Ignatius, the Pope continues:
All in all, one can deduce from the letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fecund dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the ecclesial community, and on the other, the fundamental unity which links together all the faithful in Christ.
Consequently, the roles cannot be opposed against each other. On the contrary, his insistence on the comunion of believers among themselves and with their own pastors is continually reformulated through eloquent images and analogies: the zither, the chords, taking the pitch, a concert, a symphony.
He makes evident the particular responsibility of bishops, priests and deacons in edifying the community. Above everything, what should be most valuable for them is the invitation to love and to unity.
"Be one thing only," Ignatius writes the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper. "A single plea, a single mind, a single hope in love … Make haste towards Jesus as the only temple of God, as the only altar: He is One, and proceeding from the only Father, has remained united to Him, and in Him, He returns to unity (7, 1-2).
Ignatius was the first in all of Christian literature to attrbute to the Church the adjective ‘catholic’, which means universal. "Wherever Jesus Christ is," he states, "that is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnians 8,2).
And precisely in the service of unity, the Christian community in Rome exercises a sort of primacy in love: "In Rome, she (the church) presides (in a manner) worthy of God, venerable, deserving to be called blessed…Whoever has the law of Christ and carries the name of the Father presides in charity" (Romans, Prologue).
As we see, Ignatius is truly a ‘doctor of unity’: the unity of God and the unity of Christ (against the various heresies which started to circulate and divided man and God [human and divine nature] in Christ), unity of the Church, unity among the faithful…in faith and in charity, than which there is nothing more excellent" (Smyrnians 6,1).
Ultimately, the ‘realism’ of Ignatius invites the faithful, yesterday as today, it invites us all to a progressive synthesis between a configuration to Christ (union with Him, life in Him), and dedication to His Church (unity with the bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).
In short, we must arrive at a synthesis between the communion of the Church within itself, and its mission to proclaim the Gospel to others, so that the others can speak back to us, and believers will be ever more "in possession of that indivisible spirit which is Jesus Christ Himself" (Magnesians 15).
Imploring the Lord for this ‘grace of unity," and in the conviction of presiding in charity over all the Church (cfr Romans, prologue), I address to you the same wish with which Ignatius concludes his letter to the Trallians: "Love each other with undivided heart. I offer my spirit in sacrifice for yours, not just now, but even after I will have reached God…In Christ, may you be found spotless" (13).
Let us pray so that the Lord will help us reach this unity and to be found spotless at the end, because love purifies the soul.