Victory of the Martyrs

In January, I picked up my old, dusty, worn-out copy of the book, Victories of the Early Martyrs by St. Alphonsus Liguori and have been so inspired by the faith and zeal of our brothers and sisters who lived in the earliest centuries of the Church.

This Saturday is the Feast of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, both Roman martyrs. Their story was recorded by Perpetua’s own hand in an account known as The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity.

The story begins with Perpetua who lived in a Roman province in Africa. She was a 22-year old noblewoman and a young mother whose conversion to Christianity took place during the persecution of Septimus. Her father, a pagan, forcefully sought to persuade her from baptism but she adamantly refused his appeals. Unmoved by his requests, she responded to him, “See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?”

Her father answered, “Of course not.” Perpetua answered, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am — a Christian.”

Not long after her pronouncement, Perpetua was arrested with four other catechumens, including a pregnant slave named Felicity. They were tossed into a dark, foul-smelling, crowded prison where they were abused by the soldiers.

Perpetua’s greatest suffering was being separated from her infant son, yet she remained steadfast in her conviction. Listen to her own account of facing her judge, “On the following day I was brought before the auditor, Hilarian, who, by reason of the death of the proconsul, acted as judge. My father appeared with me, holding my son in my arms, whereupon the judge said: ‘Perpetua, have pity on thy father and on thy son — sacrifice to the gods.’ I answered that I was a Christian and that we were all ready to die for our faith. The judge then condemned us to be devoured by wild beasts.”

Felicity, in the final stages of pregnancy, was imprisoned with Perpetua and the other Christians. She desired to die with her colleagues but Roman law forbade the execution of pregnant women. They all prayed and she delivered her daughter that very day. When she cried out in agony the guard said to her, “Dost thou moan? What wilt thou do when thou shalt be devoured by wild beasts?” She replied, “I now suffer by myself; but then I shall have Jesus Christ with me, and by his grace I will endure all things for his sake.”

Both Perpetua and Felicity went to their martyrdom with great joy on March 7th in the year 203. Many conversions were inspired by their inspiring witness and they were eventually added to the Canon of the Mass.

Perpetua’s last words were to her brothers in the faith: “Stand fast in the faith and love one another.”

Most of us will not be called to lay down our lives in a martyrdom of blood. But there are many opportunities to witness for Christ in the face of a culture that is largely opposed to Christian values.

In this week’s Women of Grace Rosary Crusade, we pray that we too will “stand fast in the faith” and be courageous in our beliefs. Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.


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