Summary: The choice is eternal life or eternal death, there is no middle way: that is the testimony of the martyrs.
Thursday after Ash Wednesday 2019
Ss. Felicity and Perpetua
Today, in the glow of our Ash Wednesday devotion, we are presented with the awesome song known as Psalm Number 1: Happy is the human who takes his delight in God’s law, who shuns even the company of the wicked and the cynic. Such a person is compared to a willow tree or oak planted right next to the Guadalupe stream up in the hill country of Texas. There is a green belt that survives even the worst droughts, because even in those months of drought, even when the streambed dries up, underneath there is a continuous flow of ground water that can nourish for a long time. The choice is stark–love and obey the One who created and redeemed us, the God who is nothing but Love incarnate–or disobey and hate and die a spiritual death infinitely worse than the worst physical death.
Jesus uses slightly different language to affirm that truth. His example is engraved in history: He lived a life of perfect love, perfect self-giving. His human reward was a few minutes of fame on Palm Sunday followed by a week of controversy with the Pharisees and Scribes, a Last Supper with His disciples, where He instituted the sacrament we continue to celebrate each day, and a Triduum of sorrow, suffering, death, burial and–we must never forget–Resurrection to everlasting glory. It’s a glory we too can share, if only we take up our little crosses each day and follow His example of self-giving. Life or death, there is no middle way.
Our saints of the day have been considered saints since the date of their martyrdom. They are Saints Felicity and Perpetua. “The Passion of Saint Perpetua, St Felicity and Companions is one of the oldest and most notable early Christian texts. It survives in both Latin and Greek forms, and contains a first person prison diary of the young mother and martyr Perpetua. Scholars generally believe that it is authentic although in the form we have it may have been edited by others. The text also appears to contain, in his own words, the accounts of the visions of Saturus, another Christian martyred with Perpetua. An editor who states he was an eyewitness has added accounts of the martyrs' suffering and deaths.”
Perpetua was an African Christian mother of age 22, right at the beginning of the third century AD, in the reign of Emperor Severus. She had a baby who was still nursing. She was arrested while she was still a catechumen, along with several others including the servant Felicity, who was pregnant and nearly full term. The account of Perpetua’s conversion and imprisonment were an early first-person narrative, and feature her visions of a ladder to heaven, which she could ascend through torture and death.
What fits with today’s Scripture is the stark choice she had to face. She could follow her pagan father’s advice and recant her Christian witness, stay with her baby and receive worldly honor, or suffer a painful death because of her devotion to Christ. She chose the better, more difficult path, along with her co-martyrs, and is honored forever on earth and in the kingdom of God.
As we begin our Lenten journey, these Scriptures and the witness of these several martyr saints are going to inspire us to do way more than just give up a bad habit until Easter. We should purge ourselves of all the old bad habits and spend time in prayer, fasting and almsgiving, frequent the sacraments, and follow our Lord however and wherever He leads us.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.