Like the prophet Daniel, it's hard to find an image of St. Ignatius (d. 107) without lions. But whereas with Daniel the lions are always tame and tight-lipped, with Ignatius they're usually fierce and feasting...on him.
Ignatius was well aware of his fate when he was whisked away from his native Syria to face execution before the emperor in the amphitheater in Rome. All along his journey, he wrote letters--seven in all--to different church communities. They provide us with a unique window into life in the early church...and into this bishop and martyr's soul. In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius writes:
I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God's wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread....He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire....Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God....My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing.
Small chance that we'll ever--literally--have to face the lions. But there are many moments in life when we feel chewed up and spit out. May the faith-filled courage of Ignatius be wholesome bread to help us--as he did--draw all our strength from Christ.