The holy example of martyrs
A Reflection for the Optional Memorial of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs
Find today’s readings here.
“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is unworthy of me.” (Mt 10:38)
Sometimes it feels like I’ve heard “take up your cross and follow me” too many times. Immediately, I interpret it metaphorically. To die for Christ can mean, for example, to be willing to do God’s will, not mine. To answer God’s call for me in my life, whatever the cost. The death of my ego. Putting others before myself.
And that’s all good, and it’s hard to do—at least for me. But today we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Felicity and St. Perpetua. The Roman government killed them along with their companions for the amusement of others in the Coliseum. Their crime? Refusing to deny their Christian faith.
“I cannot call myself by any name other than what I am—a Christian,” St. Perpetua told her father, who was pleading with her to save her own life. (I’ve never been in his place, but I can imagine doing the same thing with my kids.)
The witness of St. Perpetua and St. Felicity includes details about their motherhood in their final days. St. Perpetua nursed her infant while imprisoned and St. Felicity gave birth to a baby girl just days before her death.
Still, while we often think of them together, these two saints came from disparate backgrounds. St. Felicity was an enslaved person. The Roman Empire enslaved people from many regions, including Ireland, Scotland, Eastern Europe, the Arabian Peninsula and Africa. The empire forced people into slavery by war, through birth or sale. But whatever their background, enslaved persons had no personal rights.
St. Perpetua’s life was quite different. She was a noble woman. We have the diary she kept of her final days, in which she includes details about St. Felicity and the other martyrs.
I don’t think we should pass over those differences. At the same time, we remember them on the same day because of their courage to die for their shared belief in Christ Jesus.
The church holds them both up as examples, along with the witness of the countless holy martyrs in our history: Cecilia, Miguel Pro, the Vietnamese Martyrs, Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein (Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), Oscar Romero and Rutilio Grande. Nearly all of the Twelve Apostles died for the faith.
These holy men and women are examples not just because of the way they lived, but also for the way they died. They took up their cross and surrendered their lives for their belief in Jesus Christ. Today, rather than rush to metaphorical interpretations, I ask myself: Would I be willing to do the same?
Get to know J.D. Long-García, Senior Editor
What are you giving up for Lent?
Years ago, I heard about people doing something for Lent rather than giving something up. So I’ve been picking a book related to our faith to read each year. This year, I thought I’d read Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger. I’m also trying to curb my bad language. As Lent goes on, I like to give up additional little things. Sometimes it feels like God tells me other things I need to work on. But often, I hear it from my wife. “You know, what you should have given up is…”
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Easter 2022 with the Long-García family.