St. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna and a disciple of the apostles. He is known to have accompanied St. Ignatius of Antioch to Rome to confer with Pope Anicetus concerning the celebration of Easter, which was quite a controversy in that time. He was known to be a man of faith and wisdom, that wisdom of which our first reading speaks: “He has poured her forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty; he has lavished her upon his friends.”
It was wisdom that allowed him, at the age of 86, to accept martyrdom with the peace of a life lived with integrity and in the faith of Jesus Christ. Having been placed in the pyre for his execution, he prayed: “I bless You because You have granted me this day and hour, that I might receive a portion amongst the number of martyrs in the cup of Your Christ unto resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among these in Your presence this day, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as You did prepare and reveal it beforehand, and have accomplished it, You that art the faithful and true God. For this cause, yea and for all things, I praise You, I bless You, I glorify You, through the eternal and heavenly High-priest, Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom, with Him and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and ever and for the ages to come. Amen.”
It is said that the flames did not even scorch him, that instead they formed a dome around him, and from it there was a pleasing aroma, like fine incense. He was later executed by being thrust through with a lance, with the praise of God on his lips. I’m not sure I could do that! Like the demon in the Gospel reading that could only be expelled by prayer, a martyrdom that horrible could only be accepted with prayer. And the glory that comes from that sacrifice is life eternal in the kingdom of God. The Wisdom of God leads us to prayer today; may that prayer bear fruit in our lives beyond anything the world can offer us.