Saturday, January 26, 2013
Feast of St. Polycarp
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Double (1955 Calendar): January 26
Memorial (1969 Calendar): February 23

Today the Church celebrates the sainthood of St. Polycarp, a 2nd century bishop of Smyrna.  Saint Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John the Apostle and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna.  The Asia Minor churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership and chose him representative to Pope St. Anicetus on the question of the date of the Easter celebration.

Pope St. Anicetus was the 11th pope, who reigned from c. 154 - c. 167 AD. St. Anicetus's papacy was marked by a conflict with the Christians under St. Polycarp, who wanted to celebrate Easter three days after Passover. The Church since the time of St. Peter had instead always ensured the celebration of Easter would be on a Sunday. To alleviate the situation, Pope St. Anicetus allowed the Christians under St. Polycarp to celebrate Easter their way. Those childrens continued to do so until the Council of Nicea, which suppressed such practices.

According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him.  The Acts of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved reliable account of a Christian martyr‘s death.  With St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians.

An excerpt from the account of his martyrdom:
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!" No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to your old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the Atheists." Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "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?"
Butler's Lives of the Saints (Lives Of The Saints By Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. Edition) provides us a profound meditation:
ST. POLYCARP, Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of St. John. He wrote to the Philippians, exhorting them to mutual love and to hatred of heresy. When the apostate Marcion met St. Polycarp at Rome, he asked the aged Saint if he knew him. “Yes,” St. Polycarp answered, “I know you for the first-born of Satan.” These were the words of a Saint most loving and most charitable, and specially noted for his compassion to sinners. He hated heresy, because he loved God and man so much. In 167, persecution broke out in Smyrna. When Polycarp heard that his pursuers were at the door, he said, “The will of God be done; ” and meeting them, he begged to be left alone for a little time, which he spent in prayer for “the Catholic Church throughout the world.” He was brought to Smyrna early on Holy Saturday; and, as he entered, a voice was heard from heaven, “Polycarp, be strong.” When the proconsul besought him to curse Christ and go free, Polycarp answered, “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He never did me wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?” When he threatened him with fire, Polycarp told him this fire of his lasted but a little, while the fire prepared for the wicked lasted forever. At the stake he thanked God aloud for letting him drink of Christ’s chalice. The fire was lighted, but it did him no hurt; so he was stabbed to the heart, and his dead body was burnt. “Then,” say the writers of his acts, “we took up the bones, more precious than the richest jewels or gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, at which may God grant us to assemble with joy to celebrate the birthday of the martyr to his life in heaven!”
Prayer:

O God, who gladdens us each year by the feast of Your blessed Martyr bishop Polycarp, mercifully grant that we who celebrate his birthday may also enjoy his protection. through Our Lord . . .

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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