A Homily for Thursday of the Third Week of Lent
March 7, 2024
Holy Ghost Church – 8:00 Mass
Jeremiah 7:23-28; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Luke 11:14-23

Audio Recording

 

Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs. We hear the names of these two Saints whenever the priest uses Eucharistic Prayer I at Mass, also known as the Roman Canon. But as with so many of the Saints, most of us don’t know much about them. In the case of today’s Saints, I certainly didn’t know about Perpetua and Felicity and I found their story of martyrdom to be inspirational and relevant to putting the times in which we live into perspective. I’m going to share some of this story with you now.

In 180 AD in an attempt to slow the growth of Christianity, the Roman Emperor issued a decree forbidding subjects of the Roman Empire to convert. If they did, they were given the opportunity to renounce their faith and honor the Roman gods. If they refused, they were put to death, typically in the coliseum by being torn to pieces by wild animals as a form of entertainment. 

In 203 AD, five catechumens preparing for baptism were arrested in the Roman city of Carthage (modern-day Tunisia). Among those catechumens were the two martyrs we honor today. 

Perpetua was a twenty-two-year-old married noblewoman at the time of her arrest. She was also a mother, having recently given birth to a son whom she was still nursing. Her father was a pagan, but her mother and a brother were baptized Christians. Perpetua had been touched by Christ and decided to become a Christian, but she was arrested before her baptism. She was secretly baptized while in prison.

Felicity, a slave, was also a young woman and pregnant at the time of her arrest. One eyewitness stated, “Felicity had feared that she might not be allowed to suffer with the rest, because pregnant women were not sent into the arena. However, she gave birth in the prison to a daughter whom one of their fellow Christians at once adopted.”

When these brave women stood before their judge. When asked directly if she were a Christian, Perpetua responded, “Yes, I am.” The judge passed sentence and all were condemned to death by wild beasts. Still, they were filled with great joy as they returned to their prison.

On the day of their martyrdom, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions walked to the arena with heads high and joyful spirits. The men were sent into the arena first to be devoured by a leopard, a wild boar, and a bear. When a second leopard attacked and blood poured out, the crowd cried out, “He is well baptized now!”

Perpetua and Felicity were then placed in the arena, and a wild cow was let loose as a way of mocking them as nursing mothers. The beast gravely wounded them but did not kill them, so an executioner was dispatched. Perpetua cried out to her brother, “Stand fast in the faith, and love one another. Do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you.” She then noticed the fear in the eyes of the executioner so she guided his sword to her neck and the young women received their eternal reward.

Let’s take a moment to reflect not only on the courage of today’s martyrs to hold to and profess their faith in the face of great evil, but also to reflect on the times in which we live. So often I hear good, faithful Christian people lament that we must be in the end times because of the the great evil we see in secular society. They believe that things have never been worse in the history of the world.  

Yes, things are highly politicized in today’s world and there is much evil all around us. But we’re certainly not at the point of Christians being thrown to wild beasts for professing our faith. Times have certainly been worse for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the past than they are today.

I’d like to caution us not to overreact to the state of the world, not to overreact to the evils around us by proclaiming to others that the end of the world is near. We must be careful not to put too much stock in private revelations that promote this idea. Jesus himself said that he didn’t know when the end times would come, that only the Father knows this. So let’s not presume that we know more than Our Lord as to when this will happen, in spite of the fact that the world is filled with evil and evil doers. This has always been the case.

What we can be sure of is this: the end of OUR life is near. We must prepare ourselves and others for that time which will surely come sooner or later for each of us. 

While we don’t know the day and time of our passing, we do know that it will happen for everyone here today within the next 100 years. For many of us it will be well before that. Rather than succumbing to the temptation of guessing as to the timing of the cataclysmic events of the end of the world, let’s focus on preparing ourselves to die in a state of grace. And as we do so, let’s also make it our mission to bring others to Christ so that they, too, have time to prepare for their death. This is what’s most important in our short time here on earth.

Like Perpetua and Felicity, let’s pray that we will never shy away from living our faith openly in a hostile world and that we will be a holy witness of God’s most pure love for everyone, inspiring them to come to our Lord for forgiveness and salvation. Saints Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us. God bless you.