The Means to Persevere like St. Polycarp To the End, 7th Thursday (I), February 23, 2017

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, Manhattan
Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year I
Memorial of St. Polycarp, Martyr
February 23, 2017
Sir 5:1-8, Ps 1, Mk 9:41-50


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, the heroic bishop of Smyrna in southwestern Turkey who was martyred on this day in 155. He learned the Gospel as a young boy from St. John the Apostle, who in his later years, St. Jerome tells us, never tired of simply preaching, “Little children, love one another,” saying that he would do so because the Lord never tired of calling us to love others in this way. St. Polycarp learned the lesson. With Pope St. Clement and St. Ignatius of Antioch (a saint whom he knew and from whom he received a celebrated letter), he is one of the three great Apostolic fathers, the great leaders of second generation of Christians, the ones who succeeded the apostles. We know how the faith spread so much in the first generations: it was the witness of martyrdom — that sane people treated Jesus as someone worth living for and dying for — and the witness of Christian charity, that Christians would sell all they had, lay the proceeds at the feet of the apostles and bishops to care for everyone as family members where needed. Polycarp presided over that charity and mutual mercy. And at the end of life he also spread the faith, out of love for God and others, through his martyrdom. He was given a chance to save his life simply by cursing Jesus Christ. He famously replied, “For 86 years I have served him and he has done me no wrong, why would I betray him now?” They sentenced him to be burned at the stake and as they were tying his feet to the stake and were about to nail his feet, but he said, “Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.” He knew that God’s power could sustain him while being burned alive. After he had prayed, they lit the fire, and the Christian eyewitnesses noted in their account of his martyrdom, “When a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.” He entered into the sacrifice of Christ that he had the privilege of celebrating each morning.
  • How did he become faithful toward the end? While some seniors today grow in faith until then, spending most of their time like Simeon and Anna in prayer, others allow their faith to weaken and grow soft. It’s key for all of us, if we wish to persevere to the end, to train ourselves for it. Today in the readings we learn some very valuable lessons.
  • In the Gospel, Jesus tells us first that it begins with charity in simple little deeds, as simple as giving a cup of cold water to others, not anything spectacular but the more we give to Christ in others, the more we’re prepared to give all when the supreme moment comes. Second it involves courageously cutting out of our lives sin. Jesus tells us to be willing to pluck out eyes and cut off hands and feet if they’d voluntarily separate us from Christ; that type of loving boldness helps us to lose our whole body for Christ and receive it back from him after death. It, third, involves a hatred of scandal, recognizing that our example is so important to others. Jesus warns us about bad example today, saying it would be better to die being drowned with a millstone around our neck than to lead others to sin. On the flip side, what a great life we have when we through our example can lead others to God. It’s like a hot air balloon lifting us up, with Polycarp, to God. Finally, Jesus speaks to us about the importance of our being salted by him so that we can become the salt of the earth. He mentions being salted by fire, which points both to the fire of the Holy Spirit as well as the crucible of suffering. That’s the way we not only not become insipid and worthless but will have peace with one another, because when we receive God’s help to prevent ourselves from becoming morally corrupt, like salt prevents the corruption of fish and meat, then we will not give into the sin that divides.
  • Sirach in the first reading mentions other means of perseverance. It begins by not relying on our own strength and following the desires of our hearts, but relying on God’s strength and following his. It means avoiding all presumption, but recognizing our need for God’s great mercy. It means not delaying conversion but acting on Jesus’ call in the Gospel and recognizing that it would be better to die than to sin.
  • St. Polycarp lived by all of these principles, showing us in his martyrdom the flower of a plant always rooted in Christ. As we prepare to receive the same source of strength that made him strong, let us ask through his intercession for us to be faithful all our days!



The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 SIR 5:1-8

Rely not on your wealth;
say not: “I have the power.”
Rely not on your strength
in following the desires of your heart.
Say not: “Who can prevail against me?”
or, “Who will subdue me for my deeds?”
for God will surely exact the punishment.
Say not: “I have sinned, yet what has befallen me?”
for the Most High bides his time.
Of forgiveness be not overconfident,
adding sin upon sin.
Say not: “Great is his mercy;
my many sins he will forgive.”
For mercy and anger alike are with him;
upon the wicked alights his wrath.
Delay not your conversion to the LORD,
put it not off from day to day.
For suddenly his wrath flames forth;
at the time of vengeance you will be destroyed.
Rely not upon deceitful wealth,
for it will be no help on the day of wrath.

Responsorial Psalm PS 1:1-2, 3, 4 AND 6

R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Alleluia 1 THES 2:13

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Receive the word of God, not as the word of men,
but as it truly is, the word of God.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 9:41-50

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him if a great millstone
were put around his neck
and he were thrown into the sea.
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.
It is better for you to enter into life maimed
than with two hands to go into Gehenna,
into the unquenchable fire.
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off.
It is better for you to enter into life crippled
than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.
Better for you to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye
than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna,
where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. 

“Everyone will be salted with fire.
Salt is good, but if salt becomes insipid,
with what will you restore its flavor?
Keep salt in yourselves and you will have peace with one another.”