More than 280 students from 22 diocesan schools in grades 4 through 12, along with Catholic Homeschoolers, came together to share their talents through their voices in a Pueri Cantores (Latin for “young singers”) choir at a special Mass celebrated by Bishop Rhoades on Tuesday, March 7, at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Fort Wayne. The students were led by Angie Gocur, Guest Conductor, and accompanied by Tim Robison, Organist.
The following homily was delivered by Bishop Rhoades during the Pueri Cantores Mass on Tuesday, March 7, at St. Charles Borromeo:
Today, the Church celebrates two early Christian martyrs — two young women who suffered and died for Christ, who gave their lives rather than deny their faith in Jesus. The Greek word “martyr” means “witness.” Saints Perpetua and Felicity witnessed to Christ in their words and deeds, even to the point of shedding their blood for Him. Today, we thank God for their example of faith, courage, and love.
Jesus teaches us in the gospel today that his disciples must take up their cross and follow after Him. The most radical form of discipleship is martyrdom. Saints Perpetua and Felicity took up their cross, like we are all called to do, through lives of loving sacrifice. Their sacrifice led to humiliating and painful death. With great bravery, these young women walked into the gladiatorial arena where three Christian men were being attacked and devoured by wild animals while the crowd cheered. Perpetua and Felicity were wounded by the animals and killed by the swords of gladiators in the arena. Before her execution, St. Perpetua cried out to her brother and other Christians: “Stand fast in the faith, and love one another. Do not let our sufferings be a stumbling block for you.”
This all happened in Carthage in North Africa in the year 203. Because of their courageous witness, many pagans in Carthage and North Africa converted to Christianity. The Church grew and flourished there. Two centuries later, the great Bishop, St. Augustine, preached eloquently about Saints Perpetua and Felicity in that region of North Africa, which was also his homeland. And here we are in the United States 1600 years later, still singing the praises of these two young women. Their names are mentioned, along with other early Christian martyrs, in the First Eucharistic Prayer, the Roman canon. They now live in glory with the Risen and glorified Christ in the perfect joy of heaven.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity believed in the promise of Jesus that we heard in today’s Gospel: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” The martyrs lost their lives for Jesus, but in so doing, they found eternal life with Jesus in heaven. Though we most likely won’t be called to martyrdom, we are called to “lose our lives for the sake of Jesus” by giving of ourselves to God and others through our self-giving love, our service, and our sacrifices. The sacrifices we do in Lent are a way to die to ourselves, to take up our cross, especially by living our faith courageously and by sacrificing for others through generous service and almsgiving.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity weren’t even Christians yet when they were arrested for their Christian faith. They were catechumens preparing for baptism. It was a time of severe persecution of the Church, but they pursued baptism even though they knew how dangerous it would be. They were both baptized while in prison. They went forward with the conviction of St. Paul expressed in chapter eight of his letter to the Romans that we heard in the first reading today. St. Paul wrote (and this is one of my favorite passages in the Bible): “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He wrote that nothing in this world has the power to separate us from the love of Christ: not anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword. Saints Perpetua and Felicity died by the sword, but that did not separate them from the love of Christ. Jesus raised them up to the glory of heaven. With Him, by His power, they conquered death: This is important for us to remember when we feel hardship and sufferings in our lives — that nothing and no one can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Perpetua and Felicity are patron saints of mothers and expectant mothers. St. Perpetua was from a wealthy family. Not long before she was arrested, she gave birth to a baby boy. She was devastated when arrested and taken to prison because she was separated from her infant son. She was overjoyed when they allowed her family to bring her baby into the prison where she could nurse him and care for him. Yet she knew she would not live to raise her child.
St. Felicity was not from a wealthy family. In fact, she was a slave. She was pregnant when she was arrested and gave birth to a baby girl just two days before her martyrdom. It was a consolation to her that another Christian woman in Carthage would raise her beautiful little daughter.
I think the hardest and most painful sacrifice these two young mothers experienced was that they would not be able to raise their beloved children. They could have if they would have worshipped the Roman gods, but they refused to commit the sin of idolatry because of their love for Jesus.
May Saints Perpetua and Felicity pray for us and for the Church today that we may be steadfast and courageous in our Christian lives! We will be, by God’s grace, if we have St. Paul’s strong conviction that Saints Perpetua and Felicity also had, that nothing and no one “can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
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