Joy Errey writes:- ‘Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. Nothing you can see has real value.’ Ignatius (Archbishop of Antioch), Letter to the Romans
This short statement summarises the driving force behind Ignatius’ fervent goal to die a martyr (ultimately achieved courtesy of the Roman government and two obliging lions) – to give up life / human form and become ‘invisible’ in order to be identified as a credible Christian.
It was also the jumping-off point for a recent Saturday workshop entitled ‘The Best Things in Life are Invisible’, facilitated brilliantly by Robert Warren (Rector of Christ Church in Clermont Ferrand) and hosted by Joy & John Errey at their Pallanne home.
In the first break-out session, teams identified ‘invisible’ personal attitudes / attributes which make an individual’s life satisfying. The lists included kindness, generosity, honesty, compassion, dignity, empathy, etc.
The second session addressed the question of what ‘visible’ manifestations of your presence in the world have become less important in your life. Given the two key demographic attributes of the attendees, being in the autumn of their life and being retired, the results were not surprising. There was less emphasis in success broadly defined (achievement in career goals, accumulation of material items), less concern about peer recognition and a relaxation in the material world-driven personal benchmarks which governed behaviour in earlier years. For most the big change was the benefit of time which enabled more focus on the Gospel message and a reduction in, for want of a better word, the ‘stress’ associated with earlier ‘visible’ priorities.
But the key reality is that things aren’t black and white. Invisible attributes & attitudes can be made visible when manifested by the individual and when recognized by others. Ignatius was made ‘invisible’ when eaten by the lions and the act of his martyrdom made him a more convincing Christian according to the logic he laid out before his death. But dying a martyr’s death, this sacrifice, made him a more convincing Christian in the eyes of others in the early Christian Church.
By the same token, what ‘invisible’ attributes / attitudes identified above cannot become ‘visible’? As Christians, we are instructed, and pray, to live more Christ-like lives. By manifesting and living the ‘invisible’ virtues described above, we make them ‘visible’ and recognizable to others, a necessary first step in fulfilling our evangelical responsibility.