Saint Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs – Readings

Commentary on Romans 8:31-39; Psalm 123; Matthew 10:34-39

Division is the painful subject spoken of in the Gospel reading. Somewhat alarmingly, Jesus tells his disciples not to think that he has come to bring peace:

I have not come to bring peace but a sword.

And this division is not just between different groups of people; it will even happen within families:

For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law…

These seem strange words from the one we call the ‘Prince of Peace’, from the one who told his disciples at the Last Supper:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (John 14:27)

Jesus’ words must be properly understood. He is the bringer of deep peace into our lives but, as he so often mentions and as so often happens, his most beautiful words and actions generate intense hatred and hostility in those who do not want to hear them. And the basis for division among families is made clear in what follows in the reading:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

Life is a matter of choices. We can either go the Way of Jesus, the way of truth and life and love or we can go the way of self-seeking, putting ourselves at the centre at the expense of those around us. For the person committed to the Way of Jesus, there is really no choice.

Perpetua made that clear. Her father tried hard to make her compromise so that she could preserve her life but as she told him:

I am a follower of Christ and nothing else.

She could not compromise even to please her father. The long line of martyrs in the Church have lived out this teaching again and again.

The words of Paul in the First Reading from the Letter to the Romans would also have resonated with Perpetua and Felicitas:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us, how will he not with him also give us everything else?

That was the basis for the courage of the martyrs, their inner strength, even their joy at facing their fate. As Paul continues in his letter:

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us.

This was what helped the martyrs face with such boldness the wild animals thrown against them and the final stroke of execution. People who came to be ‘entertained’ were shaken to the core and made to wonder what could drive people to face such terrible deaths with such courage, not to say, joy?

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