Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp

When I started this blog, I had every intention of occasionally choosing a saint by his or her liturgical feast day and writing about them. I felt this important because, one, I find the saints fascinating. Their lives were often one trial after another, yet they persisted in their faith. And two, my own upswing in faith was only encouraged by reading Fr. James Martin's My Life With the Saints about a year ago.

(I think perhaps we should make a drinking game out of the number of times I mention Fr. Martin's name on this blog, because it's out of control.

See? I just did it again. Take a shot! Wait, don't take a shot. Say a prayer. That is most definitely way more appropriate.)

I have kind of squandered that opportunity, seeing as I haven't written about a single saint here. Even a few feast days for virgin martyrs have gone by, with not a peep out of me.

But as I was examining the calendar pre-Ash Wednesday, and counting down the remaining days I could prepare myself nachos as a late night snack, I noticed that Saint Polycarp's feast day was approaching (and is actually today, February 23).

My parents got me Robert Ellsberg's book All Saints for Christmas, and I read ahead a bit a few weeks ago about St. Polycarp. He was in his mid-eighties when martyred. He was widely considered a holy man and as the bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. When taken into captivity, he asked only for an hour to pray. St. Polycarp also had a fairly witty exchange with the Roman proconsol. The proconsol, knowing both Polycarp's age and reputation, tried to encourage him to relent. But it was to no avail. And like St. Catherine of Alexandra and St. Cecilia and probably a host of other saints, the initial method his executioners chose to kill him didn't work.

Which I ALWAYS appreciate.

Because it's really cool. I mean, imagine it. Here you have some kind of authority figure attempting to put someone to death for not denouncing his or her beliefs. Trying to wield the ultimate power, they fail. It takes repeated attempts, despite the relative frailty of the human body, to kill that believer.

And even more so in the case of St. Polycarp, again, in his mid-eighties. He was entirely an old man.

Roman proconsol: Worship Caesar. Denounce Jesus.

St. Polycarp: Jesus saved me. Why would I turn my back on him?

Roman proconsol: Do you know I can have you burned? Fire is...hot.

St. Polycarp: Yeah, but how long will my fire burn? Maybe an hour or so. You'll be burning for eternity.

Ooooh, snap!

So the Roman proconsol had St. Polycarp burned. Or, he tried to. A written account of St. Polycarp's martyrdom by a witness describes how the fire surrounded his body but didn't engulf it. He remained alive, not burning, as if enclosed within a protective shell. Ultimately, he was killed when his heart was stabbed with a sword, and the witness describes such a torrent of blood that all the flames were extinguished.

I know the saints weren't perfect. Far from it. Some even felt abandoned by God, feeling darkness where they once felt the gift of faith.

But for someone like myself, whose faith can sometimes seem to waver with the blowing of the wind, reading accounts like this strengthen my belief that this life is merely our starting point.


mayberry said...

Wow! I love reading about saints too, and more's the better if they can come up with an excellent comeback on the spot like that.

Anonymous said...

You're cracking me up. With a name like Polycarp, I can't imagine why this guy isn't more popular. Perhaps I will suggest him to one of my RICA classmates - the nun who teaches our class is dead set against anyone picking a confirmation name different from their baptism name.

Fran said...

Hey - we are Catholic, we can say a prayer AND take a drink, it's cool, ok?


Seriously - what a great post! Thank you.

Pamela said...

i have to tell you, i've read this post three times now and i swear that dude's name is polycrap. in my head. my eyeballs are telling my brain he's saint polycrap.

also? your hotsy-coldsy bags are done.