Wednesday in the Second Week of Lent
Felicity and Perpetua
Even in the season of Lent, our Church takes a day to honor two extraordinary North African women. Both died because they refused to yield to the commands of a fellow Carthaginian who had climbed the ladder of the Roman Army to become Emperor. It was his decree that resulted in the torture and death of Felicity and Perpetua, her "slave." Today, I suspect, Perpetua would be tagged as Felicity's house keeper.
The two women were born near the end of the first century. Perpetua, well-educated, composed an account of their lives after being sent to prison because they refused to deny their Christianity as was demanded by the Emperor. She was only 22 years old and the mother of a young boy. Her housekeeper, Felicity, was pregnant as the time for their execution drew closer. She prayed that God would afford her an early delivery so that she would not escape the execution with her friends. Her prayers were granted and her child was adopted by Christian parents.
The account of their years of conflict with the Emperor and time in prison was written by Perpetua and is believed to be the first literary account written by a woman. Her words were powerful. Tradition has it that her story was often read at liturgical celebrations.
The example of Perpetua, Felicity and several other companions who also refused to give up their faith, brought about the conversion of some who were witnesses to their torture and suffering. Whenever you read or hear the names of Perpetua and Felicity mentioned during the reading of the First Eucharistic Prayer, the original Canon of the Mass, know that it is these noble women who are mentioned.
Perhaps their feast day could not be at a better time this year. Women throughout the world are suffering terribly not only for their faith but for their womanhood as well. The abuse the many women suffer today cannot be easily overlooked although in many places around the world it seems that such is the case. Let us pray that women, like our mothers and sisters, our grandmothers, our aunts and women friends may never be treated in any manner that damages the sacredness of their persons or their humanity.