Yesterday the Office of Readings in the morning had a portion of the letter that Saint Polycarp wrote to the Philippians. Saint Polycarp is one of my favorite saints. Historically he was martyred around the year 150 A.D. He was friends with St. John and St. Irenaeus. The importance of these relationships is that there was a direct connection to Jesus through these relationships throughout the first two centuries: Jesus – Saint John; Saint John – Saint Polycarp; Saint Polycarp – St. Irenaeus who died at the end of the 2nd century. So the teachings of Christ were able to be faithfully transmitted in the early church through the successors of the apostles.
The second reason why I like St. Polycarp concerns his prayer as he was being martyred. As he was being burned at the stake, he offered a Eucharistic prayer of thanksgiving to God. Amazing! I don’t think that I would have been capable of that under those circumstances. Let me share with you the description of his execution.
They did not nail Polycarp, but only tied him up. And so he was bound, putting his arms behind his back, like a noble ram taken from a large flock for sacrifice, a burnt offering acceptable to and made ready for God. Then he gazed up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of the angels and the powers and of all creation, God of the whole race of the righteous who live in your sight: I bless you, for you have thought me worthy of this day and hour to share the cup of your Christ, as one of your martyrs, to rise again to eternal life in body and soul in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be taken up today into your presence among your martyrs, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, in the manner you have prepared and have revealed, and have now brought to fulfillment, for you are the God of truth… And so also I praise you for all things; I bless and glorify you through our eternal high priest in heaven (Heb 4,14), in your beloved child, Jesus Christ, through whom be glory to you and to him and to the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.”
[[Letter of the church of Smyrna concerning the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp (69-155)] ]
Finally let me share with you Polycarp’s words from the Office of Readings for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time. His words challenge us on our path of mercy:
Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied.
CHAP. I.–PRAISE OF THE PHILIPPIANS.
I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] “whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.” “In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; “ into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not of works,” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.
CHAP. II.–AN EXHORTATION TO VIRTUE.
“Wherefore, girding up your loins,” “serve the Lord in fear” and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and “believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory,” and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things” in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: “Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; and once more, “Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”