I’ve been sharing what I’m reading throughout the year for the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge, and I’m chipping away at my list. There’s only three months left! This was a shorter one, but a powerful one…
Before reading St. Polycarp of Smyrna’s epistle and the account of his martyrdom, I had been semi-familiar with his story and when he lived. But I gained some important insights on his impact as a Father of the Church after doing this reading. The book I have linked to above includes both his epistle and the account of his martyrdom by Evarestus (along with several other early Christian writings). It also provides brief biographical information on the saint, which we have due to various other early Church writings.
Polycarp’s Connection to Christ
The first thing that I found fascinating was his direct connection to the original 12 Apostles, specifically the Apostle John. We know from Irenaeus’ writings that Polycarp (who wasn’t martyred until the age of 86) was a disciple of the Apostle John and handed down the teachings of the Apostles to several generations throughout his long life. In fact, St. John the Apostle himself appointed Polycarp to his position as Bishop of Smyrna. Think about that: Jesus –> John –> Polycarp — he’s one person removed from direct communication and relationship with Christ on earth!
Polycarp’s Pastoral Words
His epistle reminds me of many of the letters of the New Testament with its pastoral style and apostolic exhortations. He clearly lived his life ready to give it up for Christ, and he encouraged his flock of believers in the same mindset. After all, early Christians basically lived their daily lives with the realization that they would most likely die at any time for their faith. Polycarp’s epistle describes St. Ignatius and other Christian prisoners on their way to be martyred in Rome: “For those chains they were wearing were the badges of saints; the diadems of men truely chosen by God and our Lord.” Continue reading “My Reading Challenge Pick for “Writings of an Early Church Father””→
Today is the feast day of St. Bartholomew. He was one of the 12 Apostles (also know as Nathanael), of whom Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). In response to Jesus’ parting command to his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” Bartholomew took the good news of Christ to India and greater Armenia. He died a gruesome martyr’s death in Armenia, but planted seeds of faith that would grow into a rich legacy and heritage one day. Armenia became the first Christian nation in 301 A.D.
I’m half Armenian; my dad is full. His father was born in America, but his mother came over from Armenia when she was a young girl. When I became Catholic three years ago, I had a newfound love for my Armenian heritage, founded squarely in the country’s historic Catholic faith. My sister and dad got to visit Armenia for 10 days a couple of years ago, and the pictures of some of these old church ruins and still standing chapels are symbols of the legacy that these missionary Apostles left behind. Reflecting on St. Bartholomew’s sacrifice today was sobering for me; suddenly the centuries of time that separates the apostles’ lives from mine seems to have shrunk. This man gave his physical life to bring spiritual life to a country full of my ancestors. His love of Jesus and faith in the Gospel were unshakable.
Sometimes we take for granted the faith that we have received, the faith that has been passed down to us. We in America and much of the western world today live in an age and culture where many view the practice of Christianity as an optional Sunday activity, like brunch or golf. But we don’t realize what we are relegating to the margins of our life and culture. We are throwing away something precious, something that men and women like Bartholomew died preserving. Even though I’m a practicing Catholic, and my faith is precious to me, I know I am constantly in danger of taking it for granted. But today, Bartholomew’s face and story make that less likely to happen. Today, I send thankful prayers to heaven to St. Bartholomew, and I ask for his intercession in return. Pray for us, St. Bartholomew, that the words Christ spoke of you will be true of us too.