This past Friday (February 23) was the feast of St. Polycarp. My pun-loving brain thought it was funny to be celebrating his feast day on a Friday during Lent, meaning many Catholics around the world were feasting on fish…(Polycarp…fish…get it?)
While I certainly saw a lot of Polycarp posts last week, many of them simply told the story of his life in his later years. Most of them failed to mention a unique moment from his childhood.
John 6 begins with an interesting story. Jesus had just healed some individuals and was being followed by a large group of amazed bystanders (over 5,000). He had tried to get away from them by crossing to the other side of the sea of Galilee, but when he was unsuccessful in this endeavor, he sat down on a hill to teach them. Jesus took further pity on these souls and desired to feed them all. The apostles had no food themselves, but there was a young boy nearby who had five barley loves and two fish. Many theologians believe that this young boy was Polycarp.
You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story. Jesus performs a miracle, and multiplies the food to the extent that there are twelve baskets of leftovers after everyone has eaten.
Can you imagine being Polycarp at this event? His lunch became food for over 5,000 people. How would it not stir your soul? How could it not have changed your life?
Sadly, there is no solid, written evidence to support that Polycarp was indeed this boy; it’s simply an informal tradition (one that you don’t have to believe) held within the Church. Even if that youth was not Polycarp, we know he still had some pretty close ties to Jesus.
Having been a Christian from a very young age, Polycarp became the disciple of St. John –the only Evangelist who includes the detail about the boy who gave up his food in his tell of the Feeding of the 5,000 (coincidence? I think not…). He was later ordained bishop of Smyrna by the original apostles (which, if you think about it, was probably pretty cool to be among the first to follow in the line of apostolic succession). He had little formal education, and was unpretentious, humble, and direct. He was also admired for his stoic expressions that always accompanied his gutsy responses (don’t worry… they’ll be featured as next month’s “Humdingers”).
He didn’t run towards martyrdom like his pal St. Ignatius of Antioch, but it eventually found him anyways. The Romans attempted to burn him alive, but the flames of the fire sort of sailed around him, not burning his body. Onlookers reported that he was glowing like baking bread or gold that was being purified. Annoyed that Polycarp wasn’t dying, his captors decided to stab him instead. Polycarp’s blood poured out from his side and extinguished the fire. Polycarp died on Feb 23, 155 AD.
I love St. Polycarp’s story. He’s a saint that can appeal to small children and adults alike. He was “hooked” by Christ from the very beginning and devoted his life to being a fisher of men.
St. Polycarp… pray for us who read this post!
Have you heard of St. Polycarp before? Do you have any suggestions for future “You May Not Know” posts?