And they have conquered (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death . Revelation 12:11.
About Perpetua and Felicitas and their Companions:
At the beginning of the third century, the Roman emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that eo their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. No saints are more uniformly honored in all the early calendars and martyrologies than these African martyrs. In 202 the emperor Septimus Severus forbade conversions to Christianity and harsh persecution ensued. Arrested in Carthage were Vibia Perpetua, a noblewoman from Thuburbo, twenty-two years old; her infant child; Felicitas, a pregnant slave; Revocatus, a slave; Saturninus; Secundulus. There were all catechumens. Later their catechist, Saturus, was arrested also. While under house arrest they were baptized.After making arrangements for the well-being of their children, Perpetua and Felicitas were executed on March 7, 203. Tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by falling on a sword because they could not bear to put her to death. The story of this martyrdom has been told ever since as an encouragement to persecuted Christians. Here is the record of the martyrdom:
First the heifer tossed Perpetua and she fell on her back. Then sitting up she pulled down the tunic that was ripped along the side so that it covered her thighs, thinking more of her modesty than of her pain. Next she asked for a pin to fasten her untidy hair: for it was not right that a martyr should die with her hair in disorder, lest she might seem to be mourning in her hour of triumph.Then she got up. And seeing that Felicitas had been crushed to the ground, she went over to her, gave her her hand, and lifted her up. Then the two stood side by side.. . . but the mob asked that their bodies be brought out into the open that their eyes might be the guilty witnesses of the sword that pierced their flesh. And so the martyrs got up and went to the spot of their own accord as the people wanted them to go, and kissing one another they sealed their martyrdom with the ritual kiss of peace. The others took the sword in silence and without moving, especially Saturus, who being the first to climb the stairway, was the first to die. For once again he was waiting for Perpetua. Perpetua, however, had yet to taste more pain. She screamed as she was struck on the bone; then she took the trembling hand of the young gladiator and guided it to her throat. It was as though so great a woman, feared as she was by the unclean spirit, could not be dispatched unless she herself were willing.
Ah, most valiant and blessed martyrs! Truly are you called and chosen for the glory of Christ Jesus our Lord! And any man who exalts, honors, and worships his glory should read for the consolation of the Church these new deeds of heroism which are no less significant than the tales of old. For these new manifestations of virtue will bear witness to one and the same Spirit who still operates, and to God the Father almighty, to his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom is splendour and immeasurable power for all the ages.
Reflection: An early Christian writer, Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220) famously penned “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” The first church buildings were erected over the sites of martyrdom, as was the case of Perpetua and Felicitas after Christianity became a legal religion after AD312.
We erect church buildings in our day after a church building committee has taken in consideration all sorts of factors but this one is major: visibility with good parking. Now parking is important and convenient. But it is a sobering reminder that the first basilicas, etc. were not built according to convenience, but to honor the witness of the martyrs. Martyrdom is not convenient, only expedient for the persecutor, or so such a person, government etc. thinks. Though I will hazard a guess that the sites of church buildings on the locales of martyrdoms met the visibility requirements: coliseums, courts etc. The martyrs were publicly executed in a “high traffic area”, a crossroads of civilization. This reminds us that the martyrs let their light so shine before others, even in death, that others might see their good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (see Matthew 5:15-17).
The word “martyr” in New Testament Greek is literally “witness”. We are to be prepared to give our witness at any time (see 1 Peter 3:14-16) even when not convenient. I am no expert at witnessing, but the faith to so witness comes not from within but from with out: in the Lord, in the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 10:19-21). The martyrs who witnessed by their blood give us good courage so that others might call upon the Name of the Lord and be saved. The martyrs then, and now, are good to contemplate to give us good courage to witness when asked about the hope that is in us. The martyrs, contrary to other ‘martyrs’ in our day and time, did not destroy themselves to take others with them and so die. They died so that the we might live in Christ Jesus, in His Church, by faith and in love, and indeed: “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Let us pray:
O God the King of saints, who strengthened your servants Perpetua and Felicitas and their companions to make a good confession, staunchly resisting, for the cause of Christ, the claims of human affection, and encouraging one another in their time of trial: Grant that we who cherish their blessed memory may share their pure and steadfast faith, and win with them the palm of victory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
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