Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, was a disciple of Saint John. He wrote to the Philippians, exhorting them to mutual love and to hatred of heresy. When the apostate Marcion met Saint Polycarp at Rome, he asked the aged Saint if he knew him. Yes, Saint 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 abhorred heresy, because he loved God and man so well.
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 urged 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 short time, 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 harm; therefore 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!
Reflection. If we love Jesus Christ, we shall love the Church and hate heresy, which divides His Mystical Body and destroys the souls for whom He died. Like Saint Polycarp, we shall maintain our constancy in the faith by love of Jesus Christ, who is the Church’s Founder and its last end.
Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894)