St. Polycarp


Repentance, Reconciliation, Righteousness, and Restored Relationships:

Optional Memorial of St. Polycarp

(Ezk 18:21-28; Ps 130; Mt 5:20-26)


Five words starting with “R” sum up the readings for today: Repentance leads to Reconciliation which leads to Righteousness that in the end results in Restored Relationships.

Sinners who repent and become righteous (in a right relationship with God, others, themselves and all of God’s creation) have all their sins forgiven and forgotten, as Ezekiel informs us: “None of their transgressions … shall be remembered against them.” That is amazing – God won’t call to mind our sins! God can forget sins, even though we can’t, and if God doesn’t’ remember them, they no longer exist. Now that is forgiveness, and perhaps a gentle assist to those of us who are scrupulous and wonder if we are truly forgiven.

The opposite for Ezekiel, however, is devastating – the righteous who backslide into sin lose all the effects of the good they might have done. A gospel church in a small community broke away from another due to differing theologies. One church allowed a second chance to those backsliders, those who fell away from their commitment to Jesus Christ. The other held that we have one chance only and once we backslide, that is it, we are a goner, so they actually broke away and started building their own church.

Perhaps they never read closely today’s psalm gently affirming that God is forgiveness, and never stops forgiving. All we have to do is repent and receive that forgiveness that is always there – a softer approach than that of Ezekiel.

Jesus in the gospel takes repentance and reconciliation a step further. We are not only to receive forgiveness from God, but we must also seek out forgiveness from those we hurt and seek to be reconciled with them. This does not come easily to us, leading to incomplete apologies that often leave reconciliation hanging. There is an art to apologizing fully and completely.

First, we can ask to share something personal with the person we may have hurt. Then, we need to ask them how they felt (and perhaps still feel) about our hurtful behavior and soak up their pain without getting defensive. This attentive listening is essential to an apology and allows the one who is hurt to begin forgiving by emptying themselves of their hurt feelings. If the one who was hurt is not truly heard, then the feelings will tend to surface again. If they then try to share those feelings and are shut down or rebuffed by the hurtful person, they will feel re-victimized and genuine reconciliation may never happen, replaced by an uneasy “peace at any price” attitude.

Once the one who was hurt has emptied themselves of their painful emotions and truly feels heard, now is the time to offer an apology, without putting any pressure on them to forgive. Another essential step is to then make a declaration to try never to do that hurtful action again – a commitment to change. An apology without a declaration to change is almost meaningless, equal to a superficial “sorry” that is not really an apology. Finally, the apology is complete by an offer to make amends, to make it right. Then and only then is an apology complete, and the possibility of repentance, reconciliation, righteousness and relationship coming together as building blocks of the kingdom of God truly in place.

The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, of which I am a member, apologized for the Indian Residential Schools at the Lac St Anne pilgrimage in 1991. One Indigenous woman told me a decade later that she was there, heard the apology, and walked out of the church for ten years because no one took the time to hear her story, to soak up her pain. Good as the apology was, we missed some steps and this woman felt it deeply.

An elderly woman stopped Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI on a street one day to share her hope that when he gets older, he would be mellow like her, and not bitter like a few priests she had known over the years. She went on to say that she had forgiven anyone who had ever hurt her, had apologized to anyone she had hurt, and to the extent possible, was reconciled with God, everyone else in her life, and herself. Now she was mellow, and ready to leave this world. That incident actually led him to write an article entitled “Being Mellow in a Bitter World.”

Today the Church honours St. Polycarp, who is one of the Fathers of the early Church. His letter to the Philippians is one of the early pieces of Christian writing in existence today. A disciple of the apostle John, he was a leader of the second generation of Christians, the first Christians who were not eyewitnesses to the death and resurrection of Our Lord. Extremely influential in the catechesis and initiation of new Christians, he was named bishop of Smyrna, located in modern-day Turkey. Polycarp was martyred for his faith about the year 155, at the age of 86. He is a patron of those suffering from earaches.

uThe Eucharist makes present to us, through Word and Sacrament, the unconditional love of our God as pure forgiveness and healing. May our celebration empower us to put into place in our lives those five “R’s” of our faith: Repentance, Reconciliation, Righteousness and Restored Relationships.


Updated: February 23, 2024 — 2:19 am

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