Ss. Perpetua and Felicity were Christian martyrs who lived during the early persecution of the Church in Africa by the Emperor Severus. With details concerning the lives of many early martyrs unclear and often based on legend, we are fortunate to have the actual record of the courage of Perpetua and Felicity from the hand of Perpetua herself, her teacher Saturus, and others who knew them. This account is known as "The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions."
In the year 203, Vivia Perpetua, a well-educated noblewoman, made the decision to follow the path of her mother and become a Christian, although she knew it could mean her death during the persecutions ordered by the Emperor Severus. Her surviving brother followed her leadership and became a catechumen as well, meaning he would receive instruction from a catechist and be prepared for Baptism. Perpetua was arrested with four other catechumens, including two slaves, Felicity and Revocatus, and Saturninus and Secundulus. Their instructor in the faith, Saturus, chose to share their punishment and was also imprisoned. Perpetua was baptized before taken to prison.
The prison was so crowded with people that the heat was suffocating. There was no light anywhere and Perpetua "had never known such darkness." Perpetua had no trouble admitting she was very afraid, but during all this horror, her most excruciating pain came from being separated from her baby. The young slave, Felicity was even worse off, for Felicity suffered the stifling heat, overcrowding, and rough handling while being eight months pregnant. When she received permission for her baby to stay with her, she recalled, "my prison suddenly became a palace for me." Consider how God loves us so much that he desires us to return to him like Perpetua desired her baby back.
Her father came to her, begging her to give in, kissing her hands, and throwing himself at her feet. She told him, "We lie not in our own power but in the power of God." When she and the others were taken to be examined and sentenced, her father followed, pleading with her and the judge. The judge tried to get Perpetua to change her mind, but when she stood fast, she was sentenced with the others to be thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. She desired nothing else than to be called a Christian. During Lent, we die to the things of the world as an act of love for God. Consider what you have taken up for lent and recognize God is working in you for His greater glory.
Felicity was also in torment. It was against the law for pregnant women to be executed. To kill a child in the womb was shedding innocent and sacred blood. Felicity was afraid that she would not give birth before the day set for their martyrdom and her companions would go on their journey without her. Two days before the execution, Felicity went into a painful labor. The guards made fun of her, insulting her by saying, "If you think you suffer now, how will stand it when you face the wild beasts?" Felicity answered them calmly, "Now I'm the one who is suffering, but in the arena, another will be in me suffering for me because I will be suffering for him." She gave birth to a healthy girl who was adopted and raised by one of the Christian women of Carthage. The man Felicity is suffering for is Jesus. Our Lenten suffering is oriented towards Jesus and is in preparation to join Him in Easter glory. Felicity is looking on towards heaven, are we looking past our sacrifice towards Easter?
The four new Christians and their teacher went to the arena (the fifth, Secundulus, had died in prison) with joy and calm. Perpetua in usual high spirits met the eyes of everyone along the way. We are told she walked with "shining steps as the true wife of Christ, the darling of God." Perpetua called out to her brother and other Christians, "Stand fast in the faith, and love one another. Do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block to you." Perpetua and Felicity stood side by side and were killed by sword at Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. These martyrs are our example for our Lenten sacrifices. Consider this week where you have been succeeding in your Lenten offering to God. Thank God for the grace of success and ask Him for the grace to persevere to the end.
Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, Pray for us!