Homily for Ordinary Time 12
June 21, 2020
The old man, stooped under the weight of years, was led into the arena. Thousands of spectators were there, and the Proconsul said to him, “Come now, Polycarp, have respect for your old age, swear by the ancient gods.” But the venerable old bishop replied, “For eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and Savior?”
The proconsul threatened to turn loose wild animals upon the old man. Yet Polycarp replied, “Call them. It is unthinkable for me to turn from what is good to what is evil.” Seeing him undaunted by animals, the proconsul then threatened to burn him alive. Polycarp responded, “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
The old man then undid his outer garment and laid it aside, and stepped forward of his own accord onto the logs that had been prepared. They were going to nail him to the wood so that he wouldn’t escape, but he objected, saying, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle.”
When they lit the flames, an amazing thing happened. The flames, instead of burning the flesh, began to form a large oval around his body, as if he was wreathed in glory. Instead of his body turning black, it began to glow a golden-brown, and the odor of burning incense was smelled by all. In fury, the proconsul ordered the soldiers to stab him to death, which they did – his blood flowed out upon the flames and put them out. Thus St. Polycarp was victorious over death in the arena, around the year 150AD.
“Do not fear those that can kill the body – rather, fear those who can kill body and soul in Hell,” says Our Lord. It is important to note that in Greek there are three words for life. There is bios (from which we get the English word “biology”) meaning our physical life of the body. There is also psuche (from which we get the English word “psychology”) meaning the life of the mind, our consciousness, our personality. But there is one more type of life: zoe, which means spiritual life, the divine life of God. It is this last kind of life, our zoe, that is of primary importance.
For all of us, our bios will come to an end someday. As good as our physical life is, it’s temporary. Why would we worry about temporary things? If I had to build a building that I knew would only last for a week, I wouldn’t bother putting in a foundation or using the best materials. When we go to a hotel, we don’t take along the fine china and the family pictures, because we know we aren’t staying very long. In the same way, why would we go to tremendous effort to worry about our bios – with all that it entails - when we are really here on this earth to grow in our zoe?
We don’t need to fear any physical evil if we focus on the prize. Some of you may remember the TV show “Fear Factor” where contestants would have to eat live worms or skydive off of tall buildings. The challenges were, frankly, terrifying – but they were able to accomplish them because they focused on the prize ($50,000). If we focus on the prize – eternity with God – then everything we need to do to get there becomes tolerable and pleasant. Nothing in this world can trouble us if our eyes are fixed on eternity.
Listen to the words of St. John Chrysostom: “The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? “Life to me means Christ, and death is gain.” Exile? “The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord.” The confiscation of goods? “We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it.” I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good.” Here is a man who practiced what he preached – he was exiled for his staunch defense of the Catholic faith.
So what does this mean for us, practically? There are a lot of things that might cause us fear in today’s society – coronavirus, politics, finances, the mess that is America. Some people lose their peace because of these things – they live in fear, and they grow angry or worried. But all of these things are temporary. They deal with our bios but not our zoe.
If your fear of coronavirus is preventing you from encountering Jesus in the Eucharist, that fear is not from God! If your focus on politics or social media is preventing you from having peace in your heart and love toward your neighbor, then eliminate those things from your life! If you fear death or if you fear the future, make acts of trust in God and ask Him to increase your faith! A true Christian, with his heart set on eternity, does not fear death or sickness, poverty or chaos. All things are passing – God alone remains.
In the words of St. John Vianney, “The eyes of the world see no further than this life, but the eyes of the Christian see deep into eternity.”