Psalm 34.2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9 Resp. 5
St. Paul directs his listeners to follow his example. This is one problem with WWJD, (What would Jesus do?): it pretends that we have seen Jesus and can even attempt to copy him. We have not though. We have only heard of Jesus. How is it possible that we will be inspired by the life of Jesus when we cannot see it? If we have only heard the stories, than how is Jesus different from any other fictional character? The stories can be impressive, but we need something more in order to be strongly connected to Jesus. The Philippians could only guess what Jesus was really like, but they knew St. Paul from many encounters. Paul does not tell the Philippians to be more like Jesus. He tells them to be more like himself: “Be imitators of me.” Why? It is not pride. He knows that he is living his life as a result of his personal encounter with Jesus. His life is a concrete example of the mission of Jesus Christ. He wants to lead the Philippians to Jesus. Paul points to himself, because he knows that the real example is the work of the Holy Spirit in him. He knows that everything he had accomplished was a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast we are celebrating today, wrote letters to the Churches. They were written on his way to die in Rome as a martyr. He, it is supposed, knew Jesus by watching the Apostles. So the faith was handed on to him, part of the second generation of Christians. Before he dies, he makes sure to hand on the faith just as he had received it. St. Ignatius followed St. John who knew Jesus personally. So the personal impact ripples out. A life changed by the example of Jesus is itself an example.
So we are better off than the early Christians. They only had Jesus as an example. We have Jesus and 2000 years more of martyrs and saints. Above all we have the flesh and blood example of the latest links in this chain. No example is perfect except Jesus himself and his mother. We ourselves know personally many imperfect examples of Jesus love, in our friends and family. Our job is to continue passing on this example by becoming, as much as possible, examples of Jesus Christ to others, until the day that Jesus Christ himself returns.