Over the weekend I was at Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology in southern Indiana for my studies. As always, it was glorious. Saint Meinrad, often referred to as “the holy hill”, is a space of peace, respite, love and intellectual stimulation. I have perpetual “Jesus moments” during my visits there. While enjoying the presence of Jesus early Sunday morning in the Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel I melted utterly and completely into his love – it was glorious indeed.
My class, titled “Early Church History”, examines some of the early church martyrs who persevered through hardship beyond what many of us can imagine today. During this period, Christians were martyred for professing Christianity, proclaiming that Jesus Christ alone is their God and for refusing to renounce Jesus. We owe these men and women a deep level of gratitude because it is through their sacrifices that we are able to enjoy our Catholic faith today.
One of the early martyrs we are studying is Saint Polycarp, a Bishop of Smyrna, Turkey in the 2nd century. Reading his letters allows us to step inside the mind and heart of this man. While on the road to Rome to be martyred Polycarp spoke words of faith and perseverance as he instructed the crowds to stay loyal to the church and it’s leaders. His deep and profound love of Jesus Christ was beauty beyond measure. Polycarp would be burned at the stake for his love of Jesus. Many miracles happened along Polycarp’s journey to martyrdom, not the least was the fragrance of baking bread as his body gave way to death. So where did Polycarp and the other martyrs receive their strength to carry on to the end? What carried them to the point of surrendering their lives for their faith? They were obviously in communion with God in a way that most of us can only dream.
In today’s readings we are encouraged to have confidence of our entrance into the sanctuary because Jesus came and gave us new life through his Blood. Everything has changed as a result of this entry into the world. Jesus’ feet touched the earth’s soil, it’s air moved through his body, it’s water was contained in his cells and he ate of it’s food. The elements that Jesus came into contact with while walking the earth are still with us and the sacredness created as a result of this connection still abides on our planet. Planet earth is forever changed because God came into it in human form, the veil has been pierced. Perhaps this physical change had something to do with the inner strength witness in Polycarp and others. After all, all of the apostles were martyred except John. As human beings, we will never be able to fully comprehend the shift that occurred on our planet as the result of Christ entering into it; however, we do know that humanity now has the promise of a greater union with our maker as a result.
We, like Polycarp, are called to encourage one another, partake in good works and love one another all for love of Christ. We are called out of isolation to move among our fellow human beings and become witness to the truth. As we strive to keep our hearts clean, our hands sinless and surrender in love of our brother, we are guaranteed reception of abundant blessings from our God. It all sounds so easy! Just love more and share with others the truth of Jesus Christ and we will have our fill of happiness and joy. The incomprehensible happiness and joy that Polycarp found in Christ awaits us as well.
Yet, at first blush it appears scripture tells us it is almost impossible to reach this state of joy. As a matter of fact, our gospel tells us that the one who has, more will be given and who has not, what they have will be taken away. Hardly seems fair! Seems life will only get easier for those who already have what they need and well, those who are in lack will experience greater lack.
Yet deeper reflection reveals the truth. It is our light, our love and our desire to share Jesus with others that gives rise to the richness and abundance our hearts desire. The more we have, the more we will receive, and, unfortunately, if we have not light within we will lose what little we have. The light of Christ within us beckons to come out and become visible to the world. The light and love inside our heart yearns to share in communion with our brothers and show them the way to Jesus Christ. We, like Polycarp, are called to be a living witness to the love of Jesus and in return we will be given abundant gifts from our most generous and loving God.
Jesus – I Love You!