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Tuesday, first week of Lent

February 23, 2010

Blessed St. Polycarp’s Day!

(Look for his biography after the reflection on the readings)

Father, look on us, Your children.
Through the discipline of Lent
help us to grow in our desire for You.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ Your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from today’s Mass)

Isaiah 55:10-11 (God’s word will not return void)
Psalm 34:4-19 “From all their afflictions God will deliver the just”
+Matthew 6:7-15 (Jesus gives us the “Our Father”)

“If you’re thirsty and dry, look up the sky. It’s beginning to rain”
-lyrics by Gloria Gaither and Aaron Wilbur

“Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy” -Psalm 34:6

You, out in the desert of Lent…look up…

Rejoice!…it’s beginning to rain!

Rain in the desert? Well, yes, it does rain here on occasion, and when it does rain the dry ground is transformed into a flowery paradise overnight. God’s not focusing on flowers, though. He sends the rain and snow of His Word to make the earth fruitful, to give seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats.

He wants us to ask for this Word, for this personal expression of the Almighty, as a way of opening our hearts to it, so that it will not run off, but will sink in and render us fruitful.

Look up. “Our Father, who art in Heaven.” Look up to our Father who loves us and wants to share Himself with us. He is in Heaven, above us, drawing us upward toward Himself, upward to become more holy, more noble, more like Him.

Lift Him up. “Hallowed by Thy Name.” You cannot lift Him higher than He is, but you can lift Him higher than He is in your (and others’) understanding of Him. It is often all too true that our vision of God (and our expectations of Him) is far too small. By His grace, with His help, we can change that. We can lift Him up by the way we think, speak and act.

Lift yourself up to Him. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” If His Kingdom is to come, then we must do His will here on earth as lovingly and joyfully as the saints and angels do in Heaven. We must be raised to His standards. This is not a do-it-yourself project. Lift your arms to your Father like a little child, gesturing, “Pick me up!” Surrender yourself to Him completely. He will reach down and bear you up, making you like His Son, Jesus (see Romans 8:29), who did His will in all things (John 5:19).

Draw Him down to yourself. “Give us this day our daily bread.” “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me” (John 4:34). This is where we came in, asking for the Word of God, Jesus (John 1:1), who is the Bread of Life that comes down from Heaven (John 6:35). This is the rain, the white snowflakes from Heaven that we catch on our tongues in Holy Communion.
“Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:11).

This is bread for him who eats (Isaiah 55:10), but it is also seed for him who sows. “A sower went out to sow…the seed is the Word of God” (Luke 8:5, 11). This Word comes to us so that we in turn can plant it in the hearts of everyone we meet (whether we expect it to grow there or not).
We become fruitful. His Word achieves the end for which He sent it.

Let this rain wash you. “…and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

“This Blood [Holy Communion], poured out in abundance,
has washed the whole world clean.”
-St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46,
“Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist”

Let Him protect you, defend you, rescue you. “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

“Let us, then, come back from that table [Holy Communion]
like lions breathing out fire, thus becoming terrifying to the Devil…
This Blood, when worthily received, drives away demons
and puts them at a distance from us,
and even summons to us angels and the Lord of angels…
This is the price of the world; by it Christ purchased the Church…
This thought will check in us unruly passions.
How long, in truth, shall we be attached to present things?
How long shall we remain asleep?
How long shall we not take thought for our own salvation?
Let us remember what privileges God has bestowed on us,
let us give thanks, let us glorify Him, not only by faith,
but also by our very works”
-St. John Chrysostom, Homily 46,
“Commentary on Saint John the Apostle and Evangelist”

As we plow our souls and pierce the clouds with this holy dart of prayer,
divine rain will fall upon our desert.

It will not return void.

“Glorify the Lord with me,
let us together extol His Name.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.” -Psalm 34:4-5

Yours in the rain,


St. Polycarp

On this date in the midst of the second century, an era ended. The last of those who had received the Faith from the lips of the apostles departed this life for Heaven in a blaze of glory.

St. Polycarp was a disciple of the apostles, of St. John in particular, and was ordained bishop of Smyrna at a young age by St. John himself. Smyrna was a seaport of what is now western Turkey–not far from Ephesus, which we know from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Polycarp is thought to be the “angel of the church at Smyrna” to whom St. John wrote in Revelations 2:8-11, one of the few Church leaders Jesus did not scold in this book.

Polycarp was known as one who hated heresy, yet who was willing to agree to disagree about matters which were not essential for salvation. We see an example of his hatred of heresy in a letter St. Irenaeus wrote to Florinus about certain doctrinal errors. Since Florinus had known Polycarp, Irenaeus appealed to the martyr’s memory: “I can protest before God that if this holy bishop had heard of any error like yours, he would have immediately stopped his ears, and cried out, according to his custom, ‘Good God! that I should be reserved to these times to hear such things!’ That very instant he would have fled out of the place in which he had heard such doctrine” (Butler’s Lives of the Saints). Polycarp’s willingness to agree to disagree over matters not essential for salvation can be seen in his visit to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus regarding a difference between the Eastern and Western churches over the date of Easter. After much discussion, they finally agreed to each keep their own custom in peace with each other.

Most of what we know of Polycarp comes from the account of his martyrdom. A great persecution had broken out in the province of Asia (which is now western Greece, not the Asian continent as we know it), and several martyrs had already shown great courage under torture. The one Christian who had been persuaded to sacrifice to the idols, Quintus, was one who had willingly turned himself in and induced others to join him. He is held up as a negative example–when persecution comes, we are not to invite it upon ourselves, lest we run ahead of God’s grace (martyrdom requires a special grace from God, and as Jesus told the devil, we are not to put God to the test–see Matthew 4:7).

Polycarp, who was at least in his late 80’s by this point, did not invite persecution. His disciples helped him to hide. But when the crowd’s appetite for blood had been whetted by the deaths of the first martyrs, they began to call for Polycarp. Under torture, one of the servants of his household gave away Polycarp’s whereabouts and the keeper of the peace, Herod, sent a group of men by night to the house where he was hiding. Rather than flee again, Polycarp calmly met them at the door, ordered as much food and drink as they wanted and asked permission to pray before going with them. For two hours he stood praying aloud, commending to God the entire Church and everyone he had ever met. His captors, sorry to be taking part in the arrest of such an honorable man, set him on a donkey and led him toward the city. Herod and Herod’s father met Polycarp with a chariot and took him into it, coaxing him to reject Christ. When he firmly refused, they pushed him out of the chariot so roughly that he hurt (some say bruised, others say dislocated) his leg. Still cheerful, he walked the rest of the way to the stadium, which was packed with people yelling for his blood. As he entered, a voice from Heaven spoke, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp !” (

It was on this day in the year 155 (or so), that Polycarp entered the stadium. There the governor tried to persuade him to reject his faith. Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” (ibid.) The governor then threatened to throw him to the wild beasts, to which Polycarp replied, “Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.” (ibid.) Seeing that he had no fear of the beasts, the governor then threatened him with fire. Polycarp replied, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.” (ibid.). At this, the governor announced to the crowd that Polycarp had admitted to being a Christian, at which they cried out, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods “(ibid.), words which ultimately testify to the effectiveness of the holy bishop’s years of service.

The crowd ran to the shops and bathhouses in the area and assembled fuel for the pyre in short order. Polycarp took off his outer garments himself, loosened his belt and tried to take off his sandals (he wasn’t used to doing that because the faithful vied with each other for the chance to be able to touch him). Then, bound in the midst of the fuel, he prayed again, thanking God for the privilege of martyrdom. When he had finished, the fire was lit and blazed up around him in an arch, like the sails of a ship billowing in the wind (this was a port city, so sails were an everyday sight). Witnesses reported that his body looked like bread baking, or like gold or silver shining in a furnace, not like burnt flesh. And a sweet fragrance of incense, not of burning flesh, came forth from the pyre. Since the fire did not harm him, the executioner carried out orders to pierce Polycarp with a dagger. His body was then burned to prevent the faithful from carrying away relics, although they collected the bones that remained, considering them more precious than jewels.

Thus did the last of those who had heard the Gospel from the lips of the Apostles pass nobly into eternal life. His name, Polycarp, broken down, means “many” “fruit”, and indeed his life and death did bear much fruit for the kingdom of Heaven.

St. Polycarp, noble lover of truth, please pray for us, that we might have the courage to suffer, when necessary, for what is right.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Angie permalink
    February 23, 2010 11:27 am

    I had a fish in college I named Polycarp for the sake of a good pun but I hadn’t ever had a chance to read his full biography! Thanks for your continued posts!

    • February 23, 2010 12:59 pm

      Too funny 🙂 ! I’m glad you’re enjoying them! (I hope your Polycarp died a natural death 😉

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