Today, March 7th, is a special feast day for those who love Purity, because the two saints whom we celebrate were such beautiful models of total purity in their martyrdom and I want to present these beautiful saints to you, my readers.
Much of the lives of early martyrs was passed down through legends − making it challenging to know what truly happened − but with Sts. Perpetua and Felicity, we have from St. Perpetua’s own hand, her teacher, Saturus, and others who knew them, a written account. So popular was this account in the early centuries that “The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity” was read during liturgies.
A Brief Retelling of the Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicity
At the age of 22, in the year 203, Vivia Perpetua made the decision to become a Christian, a decision that she knew could mean her death during Septimus’ persecution. Her surviving brother (another brother had died of disease when he was seven) followed her leadership and became a catechumen as well. Perpetua had a nursing baby at the time and it is believed she was a widow, as no mention of her husband is made. Her father tried desperately to pursuade his daughter to not be a Christian, to which she responded by pointing to a water jug, “See that pot lying there? Can you call it by any other name than what it is?” When her father answered, “Of course not.” Perpetua responded, “Neither can I call myself by any other name than what I am − a Christian.”
Enraged, her father attacked her, which led to her imprisonent, along with four other catechumens, including two slaves, one being Felicity, who was eight months pregnant at the time.
The time of separation from her baby was torture for Perpetua, and when she was finally allowed to have her baby brought to prison with her she declared, “My prison has now become my palace!” (Let us remember that, dear mothers out there who often feel “imprisoned” by all the mundane, unappreciated, undervalued work of being a mom at home and raising a family … this is our palace … and it will only be so if we choose to view it as such, in spite of the never-ending Mississippi River of dirty laundry, the dishes, the diapers, the non-stop revolving kitchen door … for it is here that we serve Our Heavenly King and His children!)
As the next few weeks unfolded, Perpetua’s father desperately tried to ”tempt” her to renounce Christ for the sake of her motherhood and being able to raise her baby. This is a very good thing − to be a mother and to be able to raise our children. But Perpetua knew that to renounce Christ would leave her soul empty and then as a mother she would have nothing to offer her child other than wordly comfort and protection. Her child’s soul and her own would be at risk of loss of eternal salvation! What merit it a man to gain the world and lose his soul? This is the question of ultimate purity of heart, is it not?
A Great Model of Purity:
Refusing Good to Hold Out for God’s Best
Our hearts are created for eternity with our God! The pure in heart are promised “they shall see God!” What is beautiful in Perpetua’s story is how she was tempted for something good, but she refused it for the BEST! The good becomes the enemy of the best when it keeps us from the best! In the Christian life we are not always called to choose between good and evil. Sometimes we are called to give up something good, so that we can receive God’s best!
As an example, when we view the “good” of physical intimacy − the marital embrace − the gift of human sexuality, designed by God to reveal to us the nature of His love, we can be tempted by that goodness. How often do you hear people say of Christian’s, “Oh, you’re just hung up about sex. Sex isn’t bad!”
They are right: sex is not a bad thing … it is a good thing … it is a very good thing … in fact, it is holy and sacred, so much so that we should guard its sacredness and goodness for what it is intended − the expression of love between a man and a woman IN marriage. When we take that good and try to grab it for itself − the pleasure of sex outside of marriage − then what is good is lost and turns to bad, as it keeps us from enjoying the best of what God intends for us. When this happens, we always suffer consequences.
Given the circumstances of her life − in a time of persecution − Perpetua knew she could not prefer the love of motherhood (which is a very good and holy thing) to the love of eternal life for herself and her baby! Had she chosen to renounce Christ, she would have turned her motherhood from something good to something that now stood in the way of God’s best!
The Path of Purity is Filled with Choices Daily.
Most of the choices we will make daily are much less complex than Perpetua’s. But the example we have in Perpetua is that even faced with such a painfully hard decision, Christ has to be the pursuit of all our goals, the reason behind all our choices, the ultimate desire of our heart.
Even the little choices we make, like …
- to share our toys (teaching our children that when we share with someone else, we are doing it for love of Jesus),
- offering to do the dishes with joy (setting by example the joy of serving Jesus by serving others),
- doing our homework instead of going on Facebook (the self-discipline of the duty of the moment is obedience to Jesus)
- changing our baby’s diaper when we’d rather it be our spouse’s “turn” (joyfully embracing the duty of the moment is a way of loving Jesus),
- paying our taxes without scorn (rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s!)
… even in these little choices, we have the opportunity to make them for the love of God and to do His Holy Will at all times − which then forms our hearts in Purity!
FIT for the Kingdom
Being PURE in heart is setting Christ first in all things … so that all we do is For, In and Through Jesus … this is what makes us FIT for the Kingdom of God.
As Perpetua faced her death, along with Felicity and the others, she carried herself proudly, declaring she would not go to her God as if she were grieving! She went to her God triumphantly glorious, along with her comrades, bearing testimony to Him in her choices in life and in death, that she prefered God − the BEST − above all earthly goods!
Perpetua and Felicity were able to see the BIG picture of our lives − against the backdrop of eternity − to put everything in perspective. Even in their names, Vivia Perpetua − which means “Perpetually Alive” − and Felicity − which means “Great Happiness” − we see an example in these beautiful saints to give testimony to Eternal Life with Joy! What a legacy to leave behind! What a model for all Christians!
The account of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity (who incidently also had to sacrifice her own motherhood − as her baby was born days before her martyrdom and given up for adoption by a Christian family) is a beautiful story to read. Our family has very much enjoyed the cartoonized presentation “Catholic Heroes Of The Faith − The Story of Saint Perpetua” on (DVD) …
… suitable even for our younger children (though very intense, you may want to watch it first) … it was a source of great discussion on the call to holiness in our own lives and the importance of living our lives PURELY for God!
These models of purity have impressed my heart greatly … and I am thrilled today, on their feast − March 7th − to share these wonderful saints with you. To enjoy a fuller story of these heroic saints, click here.
Sts. Perpetua and Felicity,
pray for us that we, like you,
may prefer Jesus Christ and His Holy Will
above anything else in this life.
Intercede for us that we would
guard our hearts in purity
so that we might, like you,
be a living testimony
to God’s goodness
in every decision we make.
Grant, dear Jesus,
that following the example of
these holy martyrs and saints,
that we will live a pure life
for the Glory of Your Name
and thus enjoy
Your Holy Presence and Glory
for all eternity!
Blessings to you, in Christ’s Purity,