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St Perpetua and St Felicity and their Companions
Martyrs (entered heaven this day in 203)
Your father’s opposition to your vocation, I am afraid to say, is part of your cross. All signs indicate that God really is calling you to the priesthood, and you have rightly discerned your primary obligation as a faithful son of the Church to give that call first priority. That the joy you feel at the thought of giving your life for the Church is marred by sorrow at your father’s disapproval is a poignant reminder that you’re still on earth – only in heaven will we experience unperturbed happiness. Pray for him, and trust in God, and forge ahead on your life’s path. The greatest thing you can do for your father is to be faithful to your vocation.
You should also remember that you are not the only who has had to endure this painful brand of opposition. One of today’s saints left us an eloquent testimony to a very similar struggle. Of course, you remember the famous history of these North African martyrs, don’t you? Five catechumens (Christians who were receiving instruction in the faith as a preparation for their baptism) were arrested during the Emperor Severus’s persecution. They were imprisoned, publicly commanded to sacrifice to the pagan gods, and when they wouldn’t they were condemned to death by wild beasts in the local amphitheater. They had to spend time in prison after their condemnation, because the governor wanted to include their execution in some upcoming festival games. Felicity was a pregnant slave girl, and she was afraid that she would not be allowed to offer her life, since pregnant women were exempt from capital punishment. In answer to her prayers, she gave birth during her imprisonment, and her daughter was adopted by some fellow Christians. Perpetua was a 22-year-old wife and mother, whose first child was still nursing. While they were in prison, Perpetua’s father, who was not a Christian, visited her, trying to dissuade her from dying for Christ. She herself described their meeting:
“… My father arrived from the city, worn with anxiety, and he came up that he might overthrow my resolution, saying, ‘Daughter, pity my white hairs! Pity your father if I am worthy to be called father by you, if I have brought you up to this your prime of life, if I have preferred you to your brothers. Make me not a reproach to men! Look on your mother and your mother’s sister, look upon your son who cannot live after you are gone. Lay aside your pride, do not ruin us all, for none of us will ever speak freely again if anything happens to you.’ So spoke my father in his love for me, kissing my hands and casting himself at my feet; and with tears called me by the name, not of ‘daughter,’ but of ‘lady.’ And I grieved for my father’s sake, because he alone of all my kindred would not have joy at my martyrdom. And I comforted him, saying, ‘It shall happen as God shall choose, for assuredly we lie not in our own power but in the power of God.’ And he departed full of grief.”
God gave supernatural fortitude to Perpetua and her companions, and they showed such confidence and joy in Christ during their captivity, on their way to the amphitheatre, and during their actual martyrdom, that one of their jailors and dozens of the spectators became believers. I, though I admit to being somewhat romantic, am certain that this martyr’s blood was not shed in vain, and her father was eventually won over to the Kingdom. If you stay as faithful to God as she did, he will work miracles through you as well.
Your loving uncle, Eddy