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Thoughts on Easter, St. Perpetua, and St. Felicity

While we're currently in the thick of Lent, we can see the light ahead. Soon, the joy of salvation will overshadow our current sorrow. Perhaps the weather is warming up in your area and the sun is peeking through the clouds, foreshadowing what is to come. However, as the old cliche goes, things always seem to get worse just before they get better. Even Jesus agonized in the garden before His death, even though He knew of the glory to come. While this is something to meditate on during different trials in our life, it is also wise to ponder it during Lent. Perseverance in prayer will help us avoid despair, and soon, we will reach salvation. Likewise, the preparatory season of Lent will soon culminate in Jesus's resurrection, which makes our salvation possible. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life; I will dwell in the house of the Lord for endless days," (Psalm 23: 4, 6).

This coming week, we celebrate two saints who embraced their own salvation through martyrdom: Felicity and Perpetua. These two are among the earliest of Christian saints and were greatly revered in the ancient Church. Unlike many of the early saints of whom there is no tangible record, we can trust the historicity of Perpetua and Felicity because of the survival of Perpetua's diary, which has been an invaluable historical and spiritual account throughout the centuries.

Perpetua was a noblewoman in North Africa born near the end of the second century. During her lifetime, Christians were experiencing a resurgence in persecution under Emperor Severus. Perpetua and Felicity, a slave, were arrested along with three men for practicing Christianity. Perpetua's father, a pagan, pleaded with her to renounce the faith. In response, she pointed to a jug and asked, "See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?", to which her father answered no. Perpetua responded, "Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am -- a Christian."

While in prison, Perpetua was separated from her nursing baby. Once the guards allowed her baby to join her in the cell, she recounted that "my prison suddenly became a palace for me." Felicity was eight months pregnant while imprisoned and gave birth to a healthy baby girl two days before their execution. What bravery these mothers showed, and what a witness to leave for their children! Although it must have been tempting to renounce the faith in order to stay with their children, they knew they could not deny God and the truth of their new faith (they had just recently been baptized). They faced wild beasts before eventually being martyred by gladiators, all in front of an arena of mocking onlookers. We can hope that Perpetua and Felicity's children followed in their mothers' faith and eventually made it to heaven to be reunited with them. 

Sts. Perpetua and Felicity's feast day is March 7. Though Christians in the United States today don't face death for their faith, it is getting harder and harder to live out our faith publicly without some form of social persecution. Outside of the West, many Christians do face real persecution, as the recent slaying at a Catholic church in Burkina Faso reminds us (Why are Catholics being killed in Burkina Faso? ( Let us pray to these saintly women that mothers today have the courage to live out their faith as a witness to their children, even though they too might be laughed at and persecuted.


By Anna Neal

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