|Mary and the Child Jesus (center) with Saints Felicity (left) and Perpetua (right)|
Since my early teens, I have been fascinated by saints' stories. Not just with Catholic saints, but with the people of God who experienced persecution and even martyrdom. When the kids were school-age, one year I read aloud daily from a book called Jesus Freaks, a collection of stories of martyrdom compiled by Voice of the Martyrs and the Christian music group dc Talk. This anthology was filled with stories of those who suffered for Christ, many in the 20th century, and also those who were persecuted and martyred in the early centuries of the church.
As a young mother, I was especially taken by the story of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, mothers of infants who gave their children to family members and faced martyrdom in Carthage rather than renounce their Christian faith.
Thanks to Franciscan Media's Saint of the Day e-mails, today I revisited the story of these two remarkable and inspiring women who love Jesus more than anything in this world--even including their children. The friendship between these two women also struck me, as Perpetua was a young noblewoman, well-educated and well-off financially, while Felicity was a slave woman. But both went bravely to their deaths. We know so much about these women because Perpetua chronicled their days of imprisonment in writing, a work that has been passed down through the centuries and can be read here as a PDF: Perpetua's Journal.
Here is the Saint of the Day entry for today, courtesy of Franciscan Media:
Saints Perpetua and Felicity
Saint of the Day for March 7
died in the year of our Lord 203
Saints Perpetua and Felicity’s Story
“When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, ‘Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?’ ‘No,’ he replied. ‘So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.’”
So writes Perpetua: young, beautiful, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage in North Africa, mother of an infant son and chronicler of the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Septimius Severus.
Perpetua’s mother was a Christian and her father a pagan. He continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned at 22.
In her diary, Perpetua describes her period of captivity: “What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby…. Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else.”
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity–a slavewoman and expectant mother–and three companions, Revocatus, Secundulus, and Saturninus, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts.
Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
Perpetua’s record of her trial and imprisonment ends the day before the games. “Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will.” The diary was finished by an eyewitness.
Persecution for religious beliefs is not confined to Christians in ancient times. Consider Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who with her family, was forced into hiding and later died in Bergen-Belsen, one of Hitler’s death camps during World War II. Anne, like Perpetua and Felicity, endured hardship and suffering and finally death because she committed herself to God. In her diary, Anne writes, “It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God.”
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As we approach the halfway mark of Lent tomorrow (Day 20), it helps me to focus on those who gave their lives rather than renounce their faith in Christ. Their stories put the troubles of my life into perspective. And isn't perspective something that we all need so desperately? I know that I do!!
"The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." ~Tertullian (c.155 -- c.240 AD)
"More Christians have died for their faith in this current [20th] century than all other centuries of church history combined." ~Dan Wooding, "Modern Persecution," Christianity.com.
Wishing you a blessed Lenten journey,