Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp (d. 156)

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey), disciple of St. John the Apostle and friend of St. Ignatius of Antioch was a revered Christian leader during the first half of the second century. St. Ignatius, on his way to Rome to be martyred, visited Polycarp at Smyrna, and later at Troas wrote him a personal letter. The Asia Minor Churches recognized Polycarp’s leadership by choosing him as a representative to discuss with Pope Anicetus the date of the Easter celebration in Rome—a major controversy in the early Church. Only one of the many letters written by Polycarp has been preserved, the one he wrote to the Church of Philippi in Macedonia.

At 86, Polycarp was led into the crowded Smyrna stadium to be burned alive. The flames did not harm him and he was finally killed by a dagger. The centurion ordered the saint’s body burned. The “Acts” of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved, fully reliable account of a Christian martyr’s death. He died in 156. (AmericanCatholic.org)

A reflection on the second reading: Success Isaiah (55.10~11)

Success: Success is man’s ideal in life. We all hope that our lives will be successful. In some cultures, failure is almost unbearable. But notions vary as to what success consists of. A man may "succeed" in his career, but in the process "fail" in some other way such as in family life. So what is success and what is the way to it? Hundreds of years before the coming of our Lord, through the prophet Isaiah God spoke of the “success” of his word: "As the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do" (Isaiah 55: 10-11).

Whatever may be the apparent success of some things in human life and the failure of others, the success that God wants to see is the fulfilment of his word. True success occurs when his word achieves what it was sent to do. The Word of God came among us in person — in the person of Jesus Christ, and he succeeded in what he was sent to do. He was sent to save the world, and he did so by his obedience unto death, which involved apparent "failure." What then will success in life consist of? It will consist in uniting ourselves with the Person who is God's Word, Jesus Christ, the one who was successful beyond imagining. Our success in life will come from following in his footsteps, in hearing the word of God as he did and putting it into practice, whatever be the cost.

So let us indeed aim at success, but let us have a clear and correct idea of what God our Father has revealed to be true success and the way to attain it.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew (6.7~15)

Jesus said to His disciples, "When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This, then, is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.' For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins."

The Lord’s Prayer
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

Inasmuch as our passage today contains our Lord’s answer to His disciples’ request that he teach them how to pray, there is no substitute for it as the principal prayer of the Christian. It was occasioned by the disciples seeing our Lord himself at prayer, so it obviously reflects our Lord’s own prayer, and draws the disciple into it. The first thing that our Lord teaches about the prayer of the one who looks to him as the Teacher, is that it is simple and direct. It is very different from the prayer of “the pagans,” who “think they will be heard because of their many words.” That is to say, the further we are from a knowledge of the true God, the more cumbersome and indirect will our prayer be. God seems far off and so it seems difficult to make oneself heard by him. It is a common experience that people who are not especially close to each other are instinctively concerned if the conversation falls silent. Things seem awkward if this happens. Words must be kept up, whereas between those who are close — say between a mother and her son, or between loving spouses — words can be few, but the two are close. They wish to be with one another, they walk together, and little is said. Words are simple and direct. Our Lord reveals that God is our Father, our dear Father — Abba! — and we must speak to him as such. We must speak to him in a way very similar to the way of Jesus, and this immediately manifests a difference from other religions. The Koran never refers to God as our Father, whereas Jesus Christ is continually doing this, and he teaches his disciples to do the same — with this difference, that he addresses God as “my Father,” while teaching us to address him as “our Father.” On one occasion the Jews picked up stones to stone our Lord because he referred to God as his own father, thus making himself equal to God. So it is that we are to pray filled with an awareness of our filial relationship with God our heavenly Father. We speak to him simply, with words that are few but heartfelt and to the point. The words our Lord provides us with are sacred, iconic, and in every way a model for all prayer.

There is a further point. It is that the Lord’s Prayer, given to us in our passage today (Matthew 6: 7-15), must be considered as an implicit summary of our Lord’s teaching and therefore of the Gospel itself. The Prayer came from the heart of our Lord, and so it must express his teaching. This teaching, therefore, ought be used to interpret the Prayer itself. For instance, when we ask God our Father that he give us our daily bread, what “bread” would our Lord have had most in mind? He would have meant the “bread” that provides our daily physical sustenance, but most of all the heavenly Bread which gives life to the world and by means of which we live forever. That is the Bread which has come down from heaven, as he teaches in the Gospel of St John. That Bread is himself, and more specifically, his flesh, given for the life of the world. Our “daily bread,” is above all the Eucharist. As Tertullian writes, the Lord’s Prayer is the “summary of the whole Gospel,” and we ought strive to understand it, and invest it with, the content of the Gospel. It ought also express our daily fidelity to the Gospel, asking the grace to live according to the Gospel. In this respect, there is a most notable element in the teaching of Jesus Christ which is particularly hard to accept and understand by those who do not give their allegiance to him. I refer to the teaching of Jesus about forgiveness. We are to forgive unceasingly — not seven times but seventy times seven (Matt 18: 21-22) — and it is to be from the heart. “So my heavenly Father will deal with you unless you each forgive your brother from the heart,” our Lord warns at the end of his parable (Matt 18: 35). So it is that at the end of telling his disciples what to pray for and how to pray it (i.e., with simplicity), our Lord emphasises especially the promise to forgive that the Prayer includes. “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” He immediately adds his warning: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt 6: 7-15).

Let us love the Lord’s Prayer. Paradoxically, there is a certain danger in knowing it well (as we should) and in having a great familiarity with it (as we should). The danger is expressed in the old saying that “familiarity breeds contempt” — which is simply to say that we can become casual about the Lord’s Prayer. St Thomas Aquinas referred to it as “the perfect prayer” and the Church’s liturgical tradition has always used its text — in fact, the text of Matthew in our passage today, rather than the briefer one provided by Luke. Let us cherish this prayer and endow it with the meaning of the entire Gospel, learning to pray it more and more perfectly till the very last, when we leave this life with it on our lips.

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