Rend your Hearts, not your Garments


If you discovered you were to die in 5 minutes what would your next thought be?  Your last words?

And what if you discovered that you were going to be burned alive by the legitimate reigning government?

Fear.  Anger.  Resentment.  Venomous threats and lashing out. Those are some of the thoughts that come to my mind.

How striking then that immediately before Polycarp (whose feast day we celebrated recently) was burned alive at the stake for being a disciple of Jesus Christ, his last words and thoughts were quite different:

Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen

It can be easy to relegate these words as mere pious talk, when we ignore the context.  It is amazing that this is his response to his impending doom.  In the face of this unjust suffering, he does not complain, nor rage against God or man, but instead blesses the Lord and even euphorically thanks Him for such an opportunity as this–to die as a witness to Jesus Christ.

Is this insanity? Should we give Saint Polycarp a diagnosis out of the DSM  and claim he is not right in the head?

Or perhaps the problem is in the heart.

In his Ash Wednesday homily Pope Francis exhorted:

We will do well to ask, at the beginning of this Lent, for the gift of tears, so as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy.

Of all things to ask from our Lord, why the gift of tears?  Why not an end to hunger or to the thousands of armed conflicts, or the thwarting of the spread of ISIS?

The gift of tears are a symptom of a deeper reality, of a heart contrite and humble before the Lord, maker of all; a heart made grateful, inflamed by the Fire of Divine Love expressed by Christ when He faced sin’s worst consequence on Calvary, making a mockery of death and forever changing the human predicament.  It is the heart that has encountered He Who Is, and this heart cannot but sing His praises in all times and places.  It has been said that only the Lover sings, and the saint is a lover par excellence.

Only when my heart, the depths of my very being and identity, has encountered the One who made me, only then am I changed at such a depth that I become a conduit of God’s grace in the world.  The revolution of Divine Love that burst on the world stage in Jesus Christ continues to rage in self-sacrificial love in the hearts and lives of those who choose to live in His presence today.  Here.  Now.

This is why Polycarp is not insane, but rather in love with his Source and End.  When we live in relation with the One who made us, we can’t help being fully alive revolutionaries of Divine Love, even if tribulation comes at the end of a Muslim sword or by state sanction.

If today you hear His voice harden not your hearts.

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