This past Tuesday, we celebrated the feast of St. Polycarp, a second century bishop, martyr, and saint. A disciple of John the Evangelist, Polycarp was a man whose faith was rooted deep and whose heart was aflame with love for the Lord. Throughout his lifetime, he set out to preach the truths of the Faith and guide the people of his flock into the Kingdom of God.
To live in such proximity to the time of Christ must have been a true blessing; being able to know and understand the teachings of the Lord unhindered by the misunderstandings of time and context. However, the fallen nature of humankind can get in the way quite fast. Not even a century removed, the people of God were quick to forget the promises of Christ and added their own spins and interpretations to the Faith that was recently taught by our Creator. Heresies ran rampant and Polycarp worked to free his people from the damaging and false ideologies that flooded the community.
History has a way of repeating itself, and looking back through the generations of people who have lived and gone before us, it’s very easy to say that the sinfulness of mankind is simply boring. Sin is boring. There’s nothing revolutionary about it, it’s all been done before, and there’s not much that can be done today that hasn’t already been attempted by someone else. To be removed from the relationship with the Father, from the source of love and goodness, leaves one dull and lost.
Thinking about Polycarp and the people he was tasked to love and guide, I can’t help but think that those people were not much different than the people who surround me today. There are many people who are simply lost, who are caught up in the empty treasures of the world that seem to promise freedom but only more deeply ensnare. The connectedness of our twenty-first century culture allows information and ideas to freely spread and propagate – regardless if they are beautiful, true, or good.
Though we may think that we’ve come a long way from the beginning of time, mankind is inherently the same: sinful, broken, and seeking freedom. We’re meant to be that way – it is the only way that we can seek the love of the Father and find wholeness in Him. The problem is when we convince ourselves that we can find that wholeness elsewhere. Polycarp was sentenced to be burned at the stake for his solid belief in the truth of Christ and His Church. His love for God and the people he led wouldn’t allow him to settle for the falsehoods that the heretics and pagans demanded he accept. To preach what was boring, false, and comfortable was no way to find freedom at all, and to settle for less than we were created for is an injustice to the very children of God.
How often do we find ourselves in the same position? Attacked by the half-truths and evils of the world, do we err on the side of acceptance or do we preach the truth? And most importantly, do we preach the truth out of true charity, as a distinct love for the beloved of God? Do we desire to one day walk side-by-side with our neighbors in the Kingdom of God?
It can be challenging to live and breathe the Faith today when faced with the objections and adversity that media and uber-connectedness bring. Though we might not be faced with the stake, we are faced with an even more frightening reality of what eternity may or may not bring. When faced with death, St. Polycarp proclaimed, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished. But you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.”
As we remember St. Polycarp, pray for the courage to burn with the fire of love that was enkindled within his heart. May our desire to bring others to Christ and His Heavenly Kingdom ring loudly within our own lives and lovingly draw those around us to the truths of our Lord.