Reading 1: SIR 5:1-8
R psalm: PS 1:1-2, 3, 4+6
Gospel: MK 9:41-50
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.(MT 10:28 NIV)
We are not of this world if we are of Christ, and are only temporarily passing through. The world does not understand us and has hate for us. To be truly of Christ means that like he did, we must take up our crosses and follow him no matter what the world thinks of us. The minimum we are likely to get is to be called heretic, but at the worst, we could be called to suffer death to follow our Lord, and this is what happened to St Polycarp who we commemorate today.
Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle and it was John who consecrated Polycarp as Bishop of Smyrnia. Together with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of the three chief Apostolic Fathers.
Polycarp was 86 years old when he was called to give his life for the Lord. It was a time in Rome, when the Roman Emperor was seen as a God and was worshipped, but Polycarp refused to denounce Christ and to follow this false God.
Polycarp was threatened by the men of Caesar that he would be thrown into a pit of wild animals if he did not denounce Christ, but Polycarp refused to budge. He escaped and hid on a farm and it was there that he had a dream about his pillow catching fire, and he knew it meant the Lord’s will for him was to be burned alive. Polycarp was resigned to his fate and in prayer, he even thanked God and praised him.
Polycarp was found, arrested, tied, and the fire was lit to burn him, but the flames formed an arch over him and his body was untouched. Instead of the expected look and smell of burning flesh, Polycarp glowed like golden baking bread and the fragrance was sweet like perfume. Because the fire didn’t touch him, they then stabbed Polycarp with a dagger, he succumbed to bodily death, and his blood poured and extinguished the flames of the fire.
After the death of Polycarp, his bones were stolen from the remains of the fire to celebrate his martyrdom. Polycarp gained the Crown of martyrdom on February 23rd 156.
Polycarp is an excellent example of living for God, accepting his will and trusting in him completely. He knew that Christ by giving his own earthly life for our salvation, meant that whilst the body may be harmed, the Spirit is eternal for a true follower of God and that there is nothing to fear.
Let us take the example of Polycarp into our lives, and fully live the will of God without complaint and with joy of thanks and praise to our heavenly Father.
Let us pray:
Saint Polycarp, sometimes Christ seems so far away from us. Centuries have passed since he and the Apostles walked upon the earth. Help us to realize that he is close to us always and that we keep him close by imitating his life as you did.