Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

Friends of Jesus, Together, Overturn the World

Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs and Holy Wives (Feb 7)

When he consolidated full control of the Roman Empire in AD 197, it wasn't long at all before Septimus Severus initiated a bitter persecution of Christianity because of its unwillingness to conform to the state-sponsored syncretism, or mixing of religions, that he wished to promote. Among the measures he instituted was the prohibition of conversion to Christianity (or to Judaism) under penalty of death. The persecution intensified from year to year: Bibles were burned, Christians were dismissed from the civil service and military, clergy were ferreted out on false pretenses, pressure was brought to bear on wealthy and powerful Christians to renounce the faith publicly.

None of this mounting terror stopped a beautiful, educated, young mother of the noble class of Carthage, in North Africa, from converting to Christianity. Vibia Perpetua entered the catechumenate despite pleas by her father. Her brother, inspired by her example, entered the catechumenate as well. Her pregnant slave, Felicity, was already a baptized Christian and the two rejoiced to be sisters. Within a few weeks, someone informed on Felicity, who was swept up in a dragnet along with her brother, her friend the slave, her catechist, and several of the other catechumens in her group. The lot were taken to jail to await judgment.

While in jail, each member of her family pled with Perpetua. Her father and mother pled. "Father," she asked him, "Do you see that water jar?" When he responded in the affirmative, she replied, "Can you call it rightly by any other name?" When he replied in the negative, she added, "And neither can I call myself rightly by any other name but Christian."

Her husband, who adored her, pled. She was young, and beautiful, and intelligent. A darling of local society. "How can you do this?" he pled. He reminded her of her infant son. She replied lovingly that the best things she could give her child was Christ.

The judge assigned to hear her case pled. He even went so far as to offer to seal the chambers and require that she only allow him to announce that she had made sacrifice to Caesar - but not that she actually do so. He offered to spare her slave for her sake. She replied that her slave was as willing to die for Christ as she was.

Perpetua and her brother were baptized after their sentence was handed down: death. The lot was taken to the colloseum of Carthage, and held there for several days. Because it was illegal to execute a pregnant woman, Felicity would not be put to death until she had delivered. It was in Perpetua's dark prison cell that Christ's revolution came to light. St. Paul had asked Philemon to overlook the status of his slave, Onesimus, for the sake of Christ. Perpetua put St. Paul's plan into action. Perpetua, a wealthy noblewoman, fed, cleaned, and cared for Felicity, her very pregnant slave. And Perpetua served her hand and foot, much to the discomfort of her jailers. Almost two centuries earlier Our Blessed Lord had asked rhetorically, "Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, `Come at once and sit down at table'?" (Lk 17:7). Here, Perpetua answers him to the shock of the pagan world - "Yes!" In Christ there is no slave and free, but only love between brothers and sisters. In today's re-paganized world, this leveling of love is again a revolutionary act.

If you doubt that the old Pagan order has been restored in the modern world, sweeping away Christ's revolution, you have only to ask yourself how many would do as St. Perpetua did for her friend St. Felicity. How many post-Christian neo-Pagans (whether they recognize themselves as such or not) make friends with other people who make one fifth their income? The only remains of Christ's revolution in the world are found in the Church. Here in the Church we Christians serve those who, in the natural order of the modern world, would be our servants. Soup kitchens, literacy classes, and all manner of social services are provided to social lessers for the love of Christ.

The judge had offered to spare Felicity for the sake of Perpetua, but in the end, it was Perpetua was who allowed to live a bit longer to tend to Felicity until the slave had given birth. At that time, their children were taken away from them and the two ladies were taken to the colloseum. The Roman world watched in amazement as another round of Christians were happily united to their Lord; this time, to add to the spectacle, a slave and her mistress went together as sisters.

So it is with us. As we allow Christ's love to transform us in our inner depths, we will almost unintentionally push against the artificial boundaries laid down by society, like a child who has outgrown his pants. Around us the seams of society's cold and loveless institutions will strain and rip as they begin to overflow with the love of Christ. Christ's revolution is not fought with guns, or even petitions and votes. It is waged with friendship that defies all odds, prayerful hope in dark prison cells, love that never ceases to sacrifice. Christ's revolution will buckle and explode the narrow walls of our hearts and then the narrow walls of our society. It is like a mustard seed, Our Lord said. Buried under a concrete foundation it will grow and uproot a whole house. It will move mountains. Christ's revolution will, we pray, overturn the foundations of the modern pagan society in which we live, tearing down the thin veneer of Christianity and replace it with a hearty, vital, living Faith in the Living God. Ss. Perpetua and Felicity joyfully lived this revolution in their lives. Pray, Holy Women, that we may live it in ours.

Ss. Perpetua and Felicity, pray for us.

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