February 23, 2009
Memorial of Saint Polycarp, bishop and martyr
By Beth DeCristofaro
All wisdom comes from the LORD and with him it remains forever, and is before all time … The word of God on high is the fountain of wisdom and her ways are everlasting. (Sirach 1:1, 4)
Then the boy's father cried out, "I do believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)
The sun burns in the sky like the Face of God, but we do not know his face as terrible. His light is suffused in the air and the light of God is diffused in Hagia Sophia…The Diffuse Shining of God is Hagia Sophia. We call her His “glory.” In Sophia His power is experienced only as mercy and as love. (“Hagia Sophia” in The Collected Poems of Thomas Merton)
The plea of the boy’s father in the Gospel is so familiar. We are often torn between our faith which gives meaning and our senses which tell us “what is.” Christ told his friends that if they but had the faith of a mustard seed, they could move mountains. My eyes and knowledge of geology tell me that this is a metaphor. My faith tells me that God brings healing and peace but my father, a good, just and faithful man, died young of cancer. Jesus spoke of God’s goodness on the earth but we see war and cruelty. Christ commissions his followers to heal and cast out demons but they are ineffective.
“I do believe, help my unbelief.” Jesus tells his followers that they could not cast out this demon because “This kind can only come out through prayer.” (Mark 9:29)
The notes on Sirach from the NAB say: “Wisdom: here the author speaks of true wisdom, namely God's external revelation of himself. The author makes clear that even human wisdom, properly understood, comes from God.” We must turn again and again, immerse ourselves in the heart and loving mercy of God, in order to be brought to the fullness of faith. We do not do not receive God’s gifts of wisdom perfectly. And we are incapable of absolute faith, total love on our own. God’s love in our lives is filtered by our weaknesses, our sin, our fears, our incompleteness and yes, even our biological form with its frail synapses, unreliable ligaments and organs. Yet God loves us the more for our surrender: Help me in my unbelief.
Today is the feast of St. Polycarp. As a second generation Christian, he knew St. John the Evangelist but never knew Jesus. It was an age when the truth about Jesus’ teachings was being debated. St. Polycarp decided that the only path to the truth was to imitate Jesus’ life. By casting himself back on Jesus again and again, Polycarp was able to sort through heresies and lead his flock to be strong and faithful despite severe persecution.
God’s outpouring of Wisdom walked the roads of Galilee in the person of Jesus. Are we turning to Him in our unbelief? How do we open ourselves to the love and mercy of God? Consider taking a different tack: read poetry or read from Song of Songs aloud. Listen to a different kind of sacred chant. Attend a Taize Mass or take part in a group practice of centering prayer. Walk a labyrinth. Freshly experience God. By repeatedly and humbly seeking God’s wisdom we will be ever more open to it.