Sts. Perpetua and Felicity

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2016/08/05 at 12:00 AM

 One of the most amazing and important pieces of literature from the Church’s history is a text called: Passio Sts Perpetua et Felicitatis.
 This historical text contains the account of the arrest, imprisonment, and martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity and their fellow martyrs in the North African city of Carthage in 203 AD. We celebrated their feast day this past Thursday.
 The document includes both St. Perpetua’s own personal testimony of the events leading up to her death, as well as the first person account of one of her fellow martyrs, a man by the name of Saturus. There’s also a brief introduction as well as a ‘blow-by-blow’ account of the martyrs’ deaths written by an editor who was an eyewitness.
 This document is important because it’s one of the oldest surviving texts written by a Christian woman, and it’s one of the few personal accounts of the martyrdom of a Christian woman. The story is incredibly compelling.
 St. Perpetua was a young noble woman who had recently given birth, and St. Felicity was her slave, who also was pregnant. They were arrested in the persecution of Septimus Severus for being catechumens, i.e., people preparing for baptism into the Church.
 After refusing to recant their Catholic faith and going ahead with bapism, the women were imprisoned, where St. Felicity eventually gave birth to a daughter.
 Eventually, the women and their fellow martyrs were led to an amphitheatre, where they were mauled by wild animals and eventually killed by the swords of gladiators. As gruesome as it sounds, the account of their martyrdom is really quite inspiring and beautiful.
 It speaks of the martyr’s peacefulness and rejoicing, of how they were rapt in such prayerful ecstasy that they didn’t even feel the attacks of the animals, and of how they gave each other the kiss of peace before being put to the sword.
 Most amazing is the editor’s account of St. Perpetua’s death as she was led to the sword.
 He wrote: “But Perpetua, that she might experience the pain more deeply, rejoiced over her broken body and guided the shaking hand of the inexperienced gladiator to her throat. Sucha woman – one before whom the unclean spirit trembled – could not perhaps have been
killed, had she herself not willed it.” St. Perpetua was 22 when she died.

 As you read this remarkable account of martyrdom, one cannot help but feel some sense of the great hope the martyrs had as they faced their gruesome deaths. Trusting completely inGod’s goodness and mercy, they faced their deaths rejoicing and with implacable serenity.
 We, as Christians, are called to this same hopeful serenity, rejoicing always in God’sgoodness and mercy, no matter what circumstances Providence should deem to befall us.
 Today as Holy Mother Church celebrates Laetare Sunday, we have special reason to rejoice, for laetare is a Latin word that means “rejoice,” and we are rejoicing because we are nowmore than halfway through our Lenten journey, and soon the joy of Easter will be upon us.
 And our readings today remind us so clearly of why we should always hope in God andrejoice in Him.
 In our first reading from the Book of Joshua reminds us of how God provided for theIsraelites during their 40-year sojourn in the desert with manna from Heaven – the foretaste
of the Eucharist we now are blessed to receive at Mass.

 But eventually, under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites were led into the Promised Landwhere they feasted on the produce of the land.
 In the same way, we are strengthened and nourished by the Eucharist as we live in exile here on earth. But someday we hope to enter into the Promised Land of Heaven where we will enjoy the bounty of God’s goodness for all eternity.
 Our second reading from St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians tells us of how our Lord, in His great mercy, constantly reconciles us to Himself through Christ. Not only are our sins forgiven, but we are made new creations in Christ!
 Thus, we must never despair about our sins, for there is no sin that God will not forgive if we are truly sorry for it. While we should nourish sorrow and contrition for our sins within our hearts, we must never worry about God’s mercy, for He offers it freely to all who repent!
 We see this spelled out so clearly for us in the story of the Prodigal Son. In the character of the father in this parable, we are given a wonderful glimpse of how God the Father treats us when we turn to Him in repentance.
 Even when we’ve squandered and misused the great gifts He has given us, even when we’ve given ourselves over to even the worst forms of sin and selfishness, if we but turn back to Him in repentance, then He makes us His children once more.
 Just as the Father showers the Prodigal Son with fine clothes, new sandals, and a ring of gold, God the Father rejoices over us and once again pours out His gifts of grace upon us when we confess our sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, restoring us to the place He has created for us in His family, the Church, from which we estranged ourselves by our sin.
 At times our sins can seem debilitating. As we consider the gravity of our sins and the numerous times we fall into the same sins over and over, perhaps it is easy for us to get discouraged and to believe that God must be tired of us.
 How often have we believed that we could never be victorious over our sins? How often have we believed that our sins are too many or too serious to be forgiven by God?
 My brothers and sisters, this must never be the case! God’s goodness and generosity far surpass our wickedness – no matter how wicked we may be! And so we must rejoice, for hoping in God and rejoicing in His goodness is truly the proper response to His mercy.
 But even more than rejoicing, we must also make a commitment to live our lives for God. The greatness of God’s mercy and goodness demand this of us as well.
 And our dedication to Him must be so great that, likes Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, we must be willing and ready to die for Him – even the most cruel death – and to do so happily. For we know the reward that awaits us in the eternal Canaan so far surpasses any pleasure we may find here on earth.
 Brothers and sisters, Holy Mother Church bids us to rejoice this day as we near the end of our Lenten sacrifices and approach the glories of Easter. But let us rejoice all the more in our Lord’s great mercy and love.
 May we never fear to seek His mercy in those times that we’ve sinned, but rather let us turn to Him confidently – yet without presumption – and receive from Him the grace we need to live according to His will.
 May we trust that by always turning to Him in our need, He will eventually make us into the holy men and women He desires us to be, and may we always refuse to be conquered by sin.
 Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.
10 March 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
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