From the testimony of the their passion, we learn that having been imprisoned for being Christian, Perpetua and her companions spent a month together in prayer in jail before facing their martyrdom together.
Perpetua’s servant Felicity was eight months pregnant at the time and was fearful that she’d miss out on being martyred with her friends and would have to wait to face her trial alone with strangers and criminals at a later date. Her friends, therefore, prayed that she’d have the baby early so that she could join them in the arena. After they finished their prayer, Felicity’s labor began:
But respecting Felicitas (for to her also the Lord’s favour approached in the same way), when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed,—because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished,—and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently. Moreover, also, her fellow martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend, and as it were companion, alone in the path of the same hope. Therefore, joining together their united cry, they poured forth their prayer to the Lord three days before the exhibition. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her, and when, with the difficulty natural to an eight months delivery, in the labour of bringing forth she was sorrowing, some one of the servants of the Cataractarii said to her, “You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?” And she replied, “Now it is I that suffer what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him.” Thus she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter.
Felicity shows tremendous courage not only in her willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake but in choosing her fate even though it will mean that her child will be deprived of her mother. It’s one thing to suffer for Christ’s sake, but would we have the courage to allow our children to suffer, as well? Another Felicity from the same time period, St. Felicity of Rome, also encouraged her seven young sons to die for the faith. When they appeared before the prefect of Rome who tempted them to sacrifice to the pagan gods, St. Felicity roundly refused. The prefect then said to her, “Wretched woman, how can you be so barbarous as to expose your children to torments and death? Have pity on these tender creatures, who are in the flower of their age and can aspire to the highest positions in the Empire!”
Don’t we sometimes feel the same pressure to conform for our children’s sake when faced with temptations from our culture? When we decide to keep our children out of sports, activities, schools, relationships, or from technology that we believe to be detrimental to their spiritual life, don’t we encounter that same type of push-back from others who accuse us of denying our children something good and rightfully theirs? Or when we are accused of selfishness and not considering the needs of our current children when we decide to have another? When faced with that pressure, we can recall Felicity’s response to the prefect, “My children will live eternally with Jesus Christ, if they are faithful; they will have only eternal torments to await, if they sacrifice to idols. Your apparent pity is but a cruel impiety.” Felicity then turned to her sons and said, “Look towards heaven, where Jesus Christ is waiting for you with His Saints! Be faithful in His love, and fight courageously for your souls.”
Felicitas in Latin means blessed, fruitful, happy. These mothers, following in the footsteps of the ultimate mother Mary who also allowed her Son to suffer, indeed embodied their names. Instead of eschewing suffering for their children, they allowed their children to embrace it just as they’d done and now are sharing together in the glory of God. (As a foil, read the Passion of Sts. Felicity and Perpetua to learn about Perpetua’s father who begged her several times to sacrifice to the gods in order to escape her fate in the coliseum, and who caused himself and Perpetua much misery.)
Would we have the same courage as these Felicitys? Do we now? Are we happy with the choices we’ve made for our children? For the courage to persevere or the determination to change our ways, let’s pray to our sisters the saints to be the mothers that God wants us to be.
Copyright 2016 Meg Matenaer
Photo by Zarah (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons