Laetare Sunday

This sermon is from my 8am Laetare low Mass. However, between the low Mass and the 10am Sung Mass, I was attacked by ants while talking to a parishioner outside our mission chapel! Separated by a few seconds of music on this podcast, I decided to also post that short 10am sermon. Thus, the last five minutes of this podcast is an improv sermon about the ants, but it ties especially into today’s readings and the most Holy Eucharist.

Annunciation Sermon

This homily is about how science and religion meet in the Feast of the Annunciation.   I reference “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,” in this homily. It was written by Cardinal Ratzinger in 1987 and it is found on the Vatican Website here.

5 Things You Might Not Know About St. Joseph

I’m going to write on five surprising things of St. Joseph in celebration of his feast day today.

1) St. Joseph was probably born without original sin. I know this one sounds heretical, but follow me here. A nun in Ohio received private revelations from Mary and Joseph in 1956, all of which were approved by Cardinal Burke in his letter to the USCCB in 1997. These apparitions are known as “Our Lady of America.” St. Joseph said the following about himself in this apparition: “It is true, my daughter, that immediately after my conception I was, through the future merits of Jesus and because of my exceptional role of future Virgin-Father, cleansed from the stain of original sin. I was, from that moment, confirmed in grace and never had the slightest stain on my soul. This is my unique privilege among men. My pure heart also was from the first moment of existence inflamed with love for God.” Mary was conceived without original sin. Joseph was conceived with original sin. However, if this apparition is true (and I believe it is) then immediately after his conception, Joseph was cleansed by God via the merits of Jesus on the cross applied retroactively. Thus, Jesus is still the Divine Savior of His foster-father, Joseph. Many ancient saints, popes, doctors and theologians of the Church have firmly believed that St. Joseph never committed an actual sin—neither mortal, nor even venial. This theological assertion does not empty the cross of its power, but rather reveals the omnipotence of God to apply the merits of the Redemption as He sees fit, even outside of time. Again, Jesus still saved Joseph from sin. (But this one probably deflates the old joke of Joseph getting blamed for everything in the breakfast-nook by the rest of the Holy Family.)

2) St. Joseph, betrothed to Mary, was a young-virgin himself. Although not defined, this is the teaching of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Combine this with the dogma of Mary’s perpetual virginity, and the outcome is that St. Joseph is still a virgin in heaven. This sheds light on the hidden life of Nazareth, namely, that it took great virtue—not old age—to live in celibacy with the most beautiful woman ever created. This also means that Jesus was the only child that Joseph ever raised. Imagine this father teaching his son the Hebrew Scriptures late at night in his workshop. The angels themselves could not have made greater praise than these deep but tender, joyful whispers of the Psalms coming from a carpenter’s workshop day and night. (For Scriptural clarity on the identity of the mother of those relatives of Jesus always debated to be either His “brothers” versus His “cousins,” you can decide for yourself by reading Matt 27:55-56. It’s the entire Scriptural key to Mary’s Perpetual Virginity.)

3) St. Joseph was probably taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Have you ever seen a first class relic of St. Joseph? Me neither. St. Francis De Sales, a doctor of the Church, considers it definite that St. Joseph was taken body-and-soul into heaven at his death. Many such saints look to Gen 50:25 as a prophesy. Common sense dictates: Would God let his own foster father rot in the ground until His second coming? Indeed, we know that although Mary’s Assumption was unique, Mary was not the only one taken body-and-soul into heaven for a preemptive resurrection of the body. (See Gen 5:24, 2 Kings2:11 and Matt 27:53.) That St. Joseph should be among this small party of bodies in heaven is easy to believe when you consider that St. Joseph has been defined doctrinally by the magisterium as the second greatest saint. (See the writings by Pope Leo XIII.) I would have thought that the runner up to Mary would have gone to, say, St. Paul or St. Catherine of Siena. Nope. St. Joseph is the second greatest saint, even higher than the angels in glory. A simple carpenter! In fact, St. Teresa of Ávila says of St. Joseph: “I do not remember that I have ever asked anything of him which he has failed to grant.” Remember this when you pray for—and with—the dying. Since St. Joseph died with Jesus and Mary at his side, he is considered the patron of a good death. My experience is that his intercession is almost immediate.

4) St. Joseph is the head of the Holy Family. This seems obvious, but think about it: St. Joseph is #3 in holiness in his family, but he is #1 in the authority of his family.  Right here we have the whole Catholic answer to the issue of women’s ordination, the role of the father as the spiritual leader of the family and even the necessity of complementary roles played by two different genders in the family. Why? Because the Holy Family reveals to post-moderns that roles themselves do not imply superiority; roles prove natural law. (Natural Law is the universal law of family and morality already stamped into the heart of human beings found in any culture.) One day, we Americans may learn that the equality of dignity enjoyed by man and woman is not the same as a bland, interchangeable sameness of family members. How boring. Rather, real roles provide beauty when they are lived without chauvinism or manipulation. Mary was holier than Joseph, but that didn’t stop her from being obedient to him. In fact, Jesus—the Divine Word of the Universe—was obedient to both of them (Luke 2:51.) So, what was Joseph’s role, anyway? That of every man: To protect, guard, provide, teach, guide and love. When a woman lets a man do this, it’s not conveying inferiority. It’s letting him live the fullness of his own masculine love for his family.

5) St. Joseph is the Return of the King. If you look at St. Joseph’s genealogy in the Gospel of St. Matthew, you will see that Joseph had to be the hidden king of Israel by being a direct descendent of King David. Why didn’t anyone know it? Because David’s royalty had to go underground to give way to a corrupt Hebrew theocracy in cahoots with Greek invaders. (For more, see the Old Testament’s 1 and 2 Maccabees, aka the Jewish Braveheart…Yes, some poor Protestans took out the most exciting book in the Bible because Luther didn’t like the Purgatory reference in 2 Macc 12:39-42.) Anyway, follow closely for one more minute: St. Joseph was “King of Israel.” This is proved right there in Matt 1:6-16. He is in the direct bloodline of King David! Read it if you think that that is a title that belongs only to Jesus. In fact, Jesus being the supposed-son of the king may have been a cruel but prophetic twist on the head-placard written by Pontius Pilate at Jesus’ crucifixion: HIC EST IESUS, REX IUDAEORUM—Matt 27:37. Of course, Jesus goes beyond Joseph as the prophesied everlasting King of Israel (2 Sam 7:12-13) since Jesus is God. If you’ve read any Scott Hahn, you know that the queen of a Jewish king was not his wife, but rather His mother (1 Kings 2:19.) Thus, if Jesus is king, then the queen of Israel is clearly Mary. Put it all together and this means: For different reasons, Mary and Joseph are both hidden royalty! The royal duty of Joseph was to guard and protect his queen, Mary. But it doesn’t end there. His duty of guarding this queen was the cameo of his longer vocation to protect the Catholic Church by his intercession in heaven. Is this a pious but random connection? No. The Church’s theology is that Mary lived as the exemplar (supreme goal and example) of the Church. This means that everything St. Joseph did once for her on earth, he would do now for the Church from his spot in heaven. Now it is easy to understand why St. Joseph’s current role is to guard and protect the Church in her pilgrim state of danger here on earth. He is summoned to protect her from both theological error and real demons. We need to call on him now more than ever in this time of nearly unprecedented confusion within the Church and diabolical attack within the family (the domestic Church.) “St. Joseph, terror of demons” is ready to help us pray and act and teach as men.

Lastly…I’ve traveled to missions and parishes on five continents during the past three years and I would argue that it is mostly in Western nations where people consider religion to be a “woman thing.” Not so in the Middle East, in India, in Africa. God is for both genders. Consider the witness of the 21 Egyptian Christian martyrs whose heads were sawed off with knives last month while they were still alive. (This is not “beheading” as the media erroneously calls it. “Beheading” was something merciful that Herod did to John the Baptist.) Did you know that these 21 were not ultra-religious Copts hand-picked by ISIS for torture? They were ordinary Christian men. Did you know every one of them was given the chance to verbally deny Jesus and then accept Islam? These normal fathers and husbands submitted to a gory death on the shores of Libya instead of denying our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. Beshir Kamel, a brother of two of the martyrs, later said that his brothers and friends were “a badge of honor to Christianity…ISIS gave us more than we asked when they didn’t edit out the part where they declared their faith and called upon Jesus Christ. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith.” Yes, this was the year 2015. Perhaps it is no coincidence that both Josephs of the Bible have blessed the sands of Egypt by their courageous and manly witness when compromise could have “saved” them. St. Joseph, genetically so close to these modern heroes and martyrs of Libya/Egypt, pray for similar men to be raised up in the Church of the Americas.

—I originally wrote this article for Those Catholic Men.

40 Martyrs of Sebaste

Today is the Memorial of the 40 Roman Soldiers who banded together in modern day Armenia, refusing to renounce Christ.  St. Basil writes of their glorious and manly martyrdom:

These holy martyrs suffered at Sebaste, in the Lesser Armenia, under the Emperor Licinius, in 320. They were of different countries, but enrolled in the same troop; all in the flower of their age, comely, brave, and robust, and were become considerable for their services. St. Gregory of Nyssa and Procopius say they were of the Thundering Legion, so famous under Marcus Aurelius for the miraculous rain and victory obtained by their prayers. This was the twelfth legion, and then quartered in Armenia. Lysias was duke or general of the forces, and Agricola the governor of the province. The latter having signified to the army the orders of the emperor Licinius for all to sacrifice [to false gods], these forty went boldly up to him, and said they were Christians, and that no torments should make them ever abandon their holy religion. The judge first endeavoured to gain them by mild usage; as by representing to them the dishonour that would attend their refusal to do what was required, and by making them large promises of preferment and high favour with the emperor in case of compliance. Finding these methods of gentleness ineffectual, he had recourse to threats, and these the most terrifying, if they continued disobedient to the emperor’s order, but all in vain. To his promises they answered that he could give them nothing equal to what he would deprive them of; and to his threats, that his power only extended over their bodies which they had learned to despise when their souls were at stake. The governor, finding them all resolute, caused them to be torn with whips, and their sides to be rent with iron hooks; after which they were loaded with chains, and committed to jail.

After some days, Lysias, their general, coming from Caesarea to Sebaste, they were re-examined, and no less generously rejected the large promises made them than they despised the torments they were threatened with. The governor, highly offended at their courage, and that liberty of speech with which they accosted him, devised an extraordinary kind of death, which, being slow and severe, he hoped would shake their constancy. The cold in Armenia is very sharp, especially in March, and towards the end of winter, when the wind is north, as it then was, it being also at that time a severe frost. Under the walls of the town stood a pond, which was frozen so hard that it would bear walking upon with safety. The judge ordered the saints to be exposed quite naked on the ice; and in order to tempt them the more powerfully to renounce their faith, a warm bath was prepared at a small distance from the frozen pond, for any of this company to go to who were disposed to purchase their temporal ease and safety on that condition.

The martyrs, on hearing their sentence, ran joyfully to the place, and without waiting to be stripped, undressed themselves, encouraging one another in the same manner as is usual among soldiers in military expeditions attended with hardships and dangers, saying that one bad night would purchase them a happy eternity. They also made this their joint prayer: “Lord, we are forty who are engaged in this combat; grant that we may be forty crowned, and that not one be wanting to this sacred number.” The guards in the mean time ceased not to persuade them to sacrifice [to false gods], that by so doing they might be allowed to pass to the warm bath. But though it is not easy to form a just idea of the bitter pain they must have undergone, of the whole number only one had the misfortune to be overcome; who, losing courage, went off from the pond to seek the relief in readiness for such as were disposed to renounce their faith; but as the devil usually deceives his adorers, the apostate no sooner entered the warm water but he expired. This misfortune afflicted the martyrs; but they were quickly comforted by seeing his place and their number miraculously filled up. A sentinel was warming himself near the bath, having been posted there to observe if any of the martyrs were inclined to submit. While he was attending, he had a vision of blessed spirits descending from heaven on the martyrs, and distributing, as from their king, rich presents and precious garments; St. Ephrem adds crowns to all these generous soldiers, one only excepted, who was their faint-hearted companion already mentioned. The guard, being struck with the celestial vision and the apostate’s desertion, was converted upon it; and by a particular motion of the Holy Ghost, threw off his clothes, and placed himself in his stead amongst the thirty-nine martyrs. Thus God heard their request, though in another manner than they imagined: “Which ought to make us adore the impenetrable secrets of his mercy and justice,” says St. Ephrem, “in this instance, no less than in the reprobation of Judas and the election of St. Matthias.”

In the morning the judge ordered both those that were dead with the cold, and those that were still alive, to be laid on carriages, and cast into a fire. When the rest were thrown into a waggon to be carried to the pile, the youngest of them (whom the acts call Melito) was found alive; and the executioners, hoping he would change his resolution when he came to himself, left him behind. His mother, a woman of mean condition, and a widow, but rich in faith and worthy to have a son a martyr, observing this false compassion, reproached the executioners; and when she came up to her son, whom she found quite frozen, not able to stir, and scarce breathing, he looked on her with languishing eyes, and made a little sign with his weak hand to comfort her. She exhorted him to persevere to the end, and, fortified by the Holy Ghost, took him up, and put him with her own hands into the waggon with the rest of the martyrs, not only without shedding a tear, but with a countenance full of joy, saying courageously: “Go, go, son, proceed to the end of this happy journey with thy companions, that thou mayest not be the last of them that shall present themselves before God.” Nothing can be more inflamed or more [moving] than the discourse which St. Ephrem puts into her mouth, by which he expresses her contempt of life and all earthly things, and her ardent love and desire of eternal life. This holy father earnestly entreats her to conjure this whole troop of martyrs to join in imploring the divine mercy in favour of his sinful soul. Their bodies were burned, and their ashes thrown into the river; but the Christians secretly carried off or purchased part of them with money. Some of these precious relics were kept in Caesarea, and St. Basil says of them: “Like bulwarks, they are our protection against the inroads of enemies.”

Baby Leah’s Funeral

I buried a premature baby today in Louisiana, and this is the sermon I gave. It was made public with the permission of the parents, because they believed there was a message people had to hear in this podcast. If you are reading this podcast description on iTunes, please also visit my blog to see the picture at the top of the casket that the baby’s father made for her in his woodworking shop. I’ll also include some sites and footnotes that I referenced in this sermon.

I spoke in the sermon about the length of eternity, and here is a blog post I wrote with that same “beach of eternity” analogy I gave in the sermon.

Also, to read the full account of the martyrdom of Saints Felicity and Perpetua, click this footnote here: 1

I also wrote a blog post here on this tiny Church next to the Mississippi river last year.  In fact, I wrote it long before I knew I was going to offer Mass here. You’ll notice that the photos on my blog of the slain Lamb standing (located above the high altar) are beautiful. However, they are nothing like the beauty of something that happened today when I took this picture above the altar. The photos below are not edited, so I think it maybe something supernatural surrounding the funeral of little Leah Philomena, a pure lamb standing with the slain Lamb (especially interesting, considering the family chose such readings from the book of the Apocalypse.)


  1.  Vibia Perpetua, was executed in the arena in Carthage on 7 March 203. The account of her martyrdom – technically a Passion -is apparently historical and has special interest as much of it was written [section 3-10], in Latin by Perpetua herself before her death. This makes it one of the earliest pieces of writing by a Christian woman.

    PROLOGUE

    1. If ancient examples of faith kept, both testifying the grace of God and working the edification of man, have to this end been set in writing, that by their reading as though by the showing of the deeds again, God may be glorified and man strengthened; why should not new witnesses also be so set forth which likewise serve either end? Yea, for these things also shall at some time be ancient and necessary to our sons, though in their own present time (through some reverence of antiquity presumed) they are made of but slight account. But let those take heed who judge the one power of the Holy Spirit according to the succession of times; whereas those things which are later ought for their very lateness to be thought the more eminent, according to the abundance of grace appointed for the last periods of time. For In the last days, says the Lord, I will pour my spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and daughters shall prophesy; and upon my servants and upon my handmaids I will pour forth of my spirit; and the young men shall see visions, and the old men shall dream dreams. [Acts 2:17, cf. Joel 2:28]

    We also therefore, by whom both the prophecies and the new visions promised are received and honored, and by whom those other wonders of the Holy Spirit are assigned unto the service of the Church, to which also was sent the same Spirit administering all gifts among all men, according as the Lord hath distributed unto each [I.Cor 7:17]- do of necessity both write them and by reading celebrate them to the glory of God; that no weakness or failing of faith may presume that among those of old time only was the grace of divinity present, whether in martyrs or in revelations vouchsafed; since God ever works that which He has promised, for a witness to them that believe not and a benefit to them that believe. Wherefore we too, brethren and dear sons, declare to you likewise that which we have heard and handled [I Cor 15:1?]; that both you who were present may call to mind the glory of the Lord, and you who now know by hearing may have communion with those holy martyrs, and through them with the Lord Jesus Christ, to whom is glory and honor for ever and ever. Amen.

    2. There were apprehended the young catechumens, Revocatus and Felicity his fellow servant, Saturninus and Secundulus. With them also was Vibia Perpetua, nobly born reared in a liberal manner, wedded honorably; having a father and mother and two brothers, one of them a catechumen likewise, and a son, a child at the breast; and she herself was about twenty-two years of age. What follows here shall she tell herself; the whole order of her martyrdom as she left it written with her own hand and in her own words.

    PERPETUA’S ACCOUNT

    3. When, she said, we were still under legal surveillance and my father was liked to vex me with his words and continually strove to hurt my faith because of his love: Father, said I, Do you see (for examples) this vessel lying, a pitcher or whatsoever it may be? And he said, I see it. And I said to him, Can it be called by any other name than that which it is? And he answered, No. So can I call myself nought other than that which I am, a Christian.

    Then my father angry with this word came upon me to tear out my eyes; but he only vexed me, and he departed vanquished, he and the arguments of the devil. Then because I was without my father for a few days I gave thanks unto the Lord; and I was comforted because of his absence. In this same space of a few days we were baptised, and the Spirit declared to me, I must pray for nothing else after that water save only endurance of the flesh. After a few days we were taken into prison, and I was much afraid because I had never known such darkness. O bitter day! There was a great heat because of the press, there was cruel handling of the soldiers. Lastly I was tormented there by care for the child.

    Then Tertius and Pomponius, the blessed deacons who ministered to us, obtained with money that for a few hours we should be taken forth to a better part of the prison and be refreshed. Then all of them going out from the dungeon took their pleasure; I suckled my child that was now faint with hunger. And being careful for him, I spoke to my mother and strengthened my brother and commended my son unto them. I pined because I saw they pined for my sake. Such cares I suffered for many days; and I obtained that the child should abide with me in prison; and straightway I became well and was lightened of my labour and care for the child; and suddenly the prison was made a palace for me, so that I would sooner be there than anywhere else.

    4. Then said my brother to me: Lady my sister, you are now in high honor, even such that you might ask for a vision; and it should be shown you whether this be a passion or else a deliverance. And I, as knowing that I conversed with the Lord, for Whose sake I had suffered such things, did promise him nothing doubting; and I said: Tomorrow I will tell you. And I asked, and this was shown me.

    I beheld a ladder of bronze, marvelously great, reaching up to heaven; and it was narrow, so that not more than one might go up at one time. And in the sides of the ladder were planted all manner of things of iron. There were swords there, spears, hooks, and knives; so that if any that went up took not good heed or looked not upward, he would be torn and his flesh cling to the iron. And there was right at the ladder’s foot a serpent lying, marvelously great, which lay in wait for those that would go up, and frightened them that they might not go up. Now Saturus went up first (who afterwards had of his own free will given up himself for our -sakes, because it was he who had edified us; and when we were taken he had not been there). And he came to the ladder’s head; and he turned and said: Perpetua, I await you; but see that serpent bite you not. And I said: it shall not hurt me, in the name of Jesus Christ. And from beneath the ladder, as though it feared me, it softly put forth its head; and as though I trod on the first step I trod on its head. And I went up, and I saw a very great space of garden, and in the midst a man sitting, white-headed, in shepherd’s clothing, tall milking his sheep; and standing around in white were many thousands. And he raised his head and beheld me and said to me: Welcome, child. And he cried to me, and from the curd he had from the milk he gave me as it were a morsel; and I took it with joined hands and ate it up; and all that stood around said, Amen. And at the sound of that word I awoke, yet eating I know not what of sweet.

    And at once I told my brother, and we knew it should be a passion; and we began to have no hope any longer in this world.

    5. A few days after, the report went abroad that we were to be tried. Also my father returned from the city spent with weariness; and he came up to me to cast down my faith saying: Have pity, daughter, on my grey hairs; have pity on your father, if I am worthy to be, called father by you; if with these hands I have brought you unto this flower of youth- and I-have preferred you before all your brothers; give me not over to the reproach of men. Look upon your brothers; look upon your mother and mother’s sister; look upon your son, who will not endure to live after you. Give up your resolution; do not destroy us all together; for none of us will speak openly against men again if you suffer aught.

    This he said fatherly in his love, kissing my hands and grovelling at my feet; and with tears he named me, not daughter, but lady. And I was grieved for my father’s case because he would not rejoice at my passion out of all my kin; and I comforted him, saying: That shall be done at this tribunal, whatsoever God shall please; for know that we are not established in our own power, but in God’s. And he went from me very sorrowful.

    6. Another day as we were at meal we were suddenly snatched away to be tried; and we came to the forum. Therewith a report spread abroad through the parts near to the forum, and a very great multitude gathered together. We went up to the tribunal. The others being asked, confessed. So they came to me. And my father appeared there also, with my son, and would draw me from the step, saying: Perform the Sacrifice; have mercy on the child. And Hilarian the procurator – he that after the death of Minucius Timinian the proconsul had received in his room the right and power of the sword – said: Spare your father’s grey hairs; spare the infancy of the boy. Make sacrifice for the Emperors’ prosperity. And I answered: I am a Christian. And when my father stood by me yet to cast down my faith, he was bidden by Hilarian to be cast down and was smitten with a rod. And I sorrowed for my father’s harm as though I had been smitten myself; so sorrowed I for his unhappy old age. Then Hilarian passed sentence upon us all and condemned us to the beasts; and cheerfully we went down to the dungeon. Then because my child had been used to being breastfed and to staying with me in the prison, straightway I sent Pomponius the deacon to my father, asking for the child. But my father would not give him. And as God willed, no longer did he need to be suckled, nor did I take fever; that I might not be tormented by care for the child and by the pain of my breasts.

    7. A few days after, while we were all praying, suddenly in the midst of the prayer I uttered a word and named Dinocrates; and I was amazed because he had never come into my mind save then; and I sorrowed, remembering his fate. And straightway I knew that I was worthy, and that I ought to ask for him. And I began to pray for him long, and to groan unto the Lord. Immediately the same night, this was shown me.

    I beheld Dinocrates coming forth from a dark place, where were many others also; being both hot and thirsty, his raiment foul, his color pale; and the wound on his face which he had when he died. This Dinocrates had been my brother in the flesh, seven years old, who being diseased with ulcers of the face had come to a horrible death, so that his death was abominated of all men. For him therefore I had made my prayer; and between him and me was a great gulf, so that either might not go to the other. There was moreover, in the same place where Dinocrates was, a font full of water, having its edge higher than was the boy’s stature; and Dinocrates stretched up as though to drink. I was sorry that the font had water in it, and yet for the height of the edge he might not drink.

    And I awoke, and I knew that my brother was in travail. Yet I was confident I should ease his travail; and I prayed for him every day till we passed over into the camp prison. (For it was in the camp games that we were to fight; and the time was the feast of the Emperor Geta’s birthday.) And I prayed for him day and night with groans and tears, that he might be given me.

    8. On the day when we abode in the stocks, this was shown me.

    I saw that place which I had before seen, and Dinocrates clean of body, finely clothed, m comfort; and the font I had seen before, the edge of it being drawn to the boy’s navel; and he drew water thence which flowed without ceasing. And on the edge was a golden cup full of water; and Dinocrates came up and began to drink therefrom; which cup failed not. And being satisfied he departed away from the water and began to play as children will, joyfully.

    And I awoke. Then I understood that he was translated from his pains.

    9. Then a few days after, Pudens the adjutant, in whose charge the prison was, who also began to magnify us because he understood that there was much grace in us, let in many to us that both we and they in turn might be comforted. Now when the day of the games drew near, there came in my father to me , spent with weariness, and began to pluck out his beard and throw it on e ground and to fall on his face cursing his years and saying such words as might move all creation. I was grieved for his unhappy old age.

    10. The day before we fought, I saw in a vision that Pomponius the deacon had come hither to the door of the prison, and knocked hard upon it. And I went out to him and opened to him; he was clothed in a white robe ungirdled, having shoes curiously wrought. And he said to me: Perpetua, we await you; come. And he took my hand, and we began to go through rugged and winding places. At last with much breathing hard we came to the amphitheatre, and he led me into the midst of the arena. And he said to me: Be not afraid; I am here with you and labour together with you. And he went away. And I saw much people watching closely. And because I knew that I was condemned to the beasts I marvelled that beasts were not sent out against me. And there came out against me a certain ill-favored Egyptian with his helpers, to fight with me. Also there came to me comely young men, my helpers and aiders. And I was stripped naked, and I became a man. And my helpers began to rub me with oil as their custom is for a contest; and over against me saw that Egyptian wallowing in the dust. And there came forth a man of very great stature, so that he overpassed the very top of the amphitheatre, wearing a robe ungirdled, and beneath it between the two stripes over the breast a robe of purple; having also shoes curiously wrought in gold and silver; bearing a rod like a master of gladiators, and a green branch whereon were golden apples. And he besought silence and said: The Egyptian, if shall conquer this woman, shall slay her with the sword; and if she shall conquer him, she shall receive this branch. And he went away. And we came nigh to each other, and began to buffet one another. He tried to trip up my feet, but I with my heels smote upon his face. And I rose up into the air and began so to smite him as though I trod not the earth. But when I saw that there was yet delay, I joined my hands, setting finger against finger of them. And I caught his head, and he fell upon his face; and I trod upon his head. And the people began to shout, and my helpers began to sing. And I went up to the master of gladiators and received the branch. And he kissed me and said to me: Daughter, peace be with you. And I began to go with glory to the gate called the Gate of Life.

    And I awoke; and I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory.

    Thus far I have written this, till the day before the games; but the deed of the games tehmsleves let him write who will.

    SATURUS’ ACCOUNT

    11. And blessed Saturus too delivered this vision which he himself wrote down.

    We had suffered, he said, and we passed out of the flesh, and we began to be carried towards the east by four angels whose hand touched us not. And we went not as though turned upwards upon our backs, but as though we went up an easy hill. And passing over the world’s edge we saw a very great light; and I said to Perpetua (for she was at my side): This which the Lord promised us; we have received His promise. And while we were being carried by these same four angels, a great space opened before us, as it had been a having rose-trees and all kinds of flowers. The height of the trees was after the manner of the cypress, and their leaves sang without ceasing. And there in the garden were four other angels, more glorious than the rest; who when they saw us gave us honor and said to the other angels: Lo, here are they, here are they: and marvelled. And the four angels who bore us set us down trembling; and we passed on foot by a broad way over a plain. There we found Jocundus and Saturninus and Artaxius who in the same persecution had been burned alive; and Quintus, a martyr also, who in prison had departed this life; and we asked of them where were the rest. The other angels said to us: Come first, go in, and salute the Lord.

    12. And we came near to a place, of which place the walls were such, they seemed built of light; and before the door of that place stood four angels who clothed us when we went in with white raiment. And we went in, and we heard as it were one voice crying Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, without any end. And we saw sitting in that same place as it were a man, white-headed, having hair like snow; youthful of countenance; whose feet we saw not. And on his right hand and on his left, four elders; and behind them stood many other elders. And we went in with wonder and stood before the throne; and the four angels raised us up and we kissed him, and with his hand he passed over our faces. And the other elders said to us: Stand you. And we stood, and gave the kiss of peace. And the elders said to us: Go you and play. And I said to Perpetua: You have that which you desire. And she said to me: Yes, God be thanked; so that I that was glad in the flesh am now more glad.

    13. And we went out, and we saw before the doors, on the right Optatus the bishop, and on the left Aspasius the priest and teacher, being apart and sorrowful. And they cast themselves at our feet and said: Make peace between us, because you went forth and left us thus. And we said to them: Are not you our Father, and you our priest, that you should throw yourselves at our feet? And we were moved, and embraced them. And Perpetua began to talk with them in Greek; and we set them apart in the pleasure garden beneath a rose tree. And while we yet spoke with them, the angels said to them: Let these go and be refreshed; and whatsoever dissensions you have between you, Put them away from you each for each. And they made them to be confounded. And they said to Optatus: Correct your people; for they come to you as those that return from the games and wrangle concerning the parties there. And it seemed to us as though they would shut the gates. And we began to know many brothers there, martyrs also. And we were all sustained there with a savour inexpressible which satisfied us. Then in joy I awoke.

    NARRATIVE OF MARTYRDOM

    14. These were the glorious visions of those martyrs themselves, the most blessed Saturus and Perpetua, which they themselves wrote down. But Secundulus by an earlier end God called from this world while he was yet in prison; not without grace, that he should escape the beasts. Yet if not his soul, his flesh at least knew the sword.

    15. As for Felicity, she too received this grace of the Lord. For because she was now gone eight months (being indeed with child when she was taken) she was very sorrowful as the day of the games drew near, fearing lest for this cause she should be kept back (for it is not lawful for women that are with child to be brought forth for torment) and lest she should shed her holy and innocent blood after the rest, among strangers and malefactors. Also her fellow martyrs were much afflicted lest they should leave behind them so good a friend and as it were their fellow-traveller on the road of the same hope. Wherefore with joint and united groaning they poured out their prayer to the Lord, three days before the games. Incontinently after their prayer her pains came upon her. And when by reason of the natural difficulty of the eighth month she was oppressed with her travail and made complaint, there said to her one of the servants of the keepers of the door: You that thus make complaint now, what wilt you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you didst contemn when you would not sacrifice? And she answered, I myself now suffer that which I suffer, but there another shall be in me who shall suffer for me, because I am to suffer for him. So she was delivered of a daughter, whom a sister reared up to be her own daughter.

    16. Since therefore the Holy Spirit has suffered, and suffering has willed, that the order of the games also should be written; though we are unworthy to finish the recounting of so great glory, yet we accomplish the will of the most holy Perpetua, nay rather her sacred trust, adding one testimony more of her own steadfastness and height of spirit. When they were being more cruelly handled by the tribune. because through advice of certain most despicable men he feared lest by magic charms they might be withdrawn secretly from the prison house, Perpetua answered him to his face: Why do you not allow us to take some comfort, seeing we are victims most noble, namely Caesar’s, and on his feast day we are to fight? Or is it not your glory that we should be taken out thither fatter of flesh? The tribune trembled and blushed, and gave order that they should be more gently handled, granting that her brothers and the rest should come in and rest with them. Also the adjutant of the prison now believed.

    17. Likewise on the day before the games, when at the last feast which they call Free they made (as far as they might) not a Free Feast but a Love Feast*, with like hardihood they cast these words at the people; threatening the judgment of the Lord, witnessing to the felicity of their passion, setting at nought the curiosity of those that ran together. And Saturus said: Is not tomorrow sufficient for you? Why do you favorably behold that which you hate? You are friends today, foes tomorrow. Yet mark our faces diligently, that you may know us again on that day. So they began all to go away thence astonished; of whom many believed.

    [note: Apparently Roman, as with modern, custom the condemned were allowed a choice of food. The martyrs used the opportunity to celebrate an Agape, or Christian Love-Feast.]

    18. Now dawned the day of their victory, and they went forth from the prison into the amphitheatre as it were into heaven, cheerful and bright of countenance; if they trembled at all, it was for joy, not for fear. Perpetua followed behind, glorious of presence, as a true spouse of Christ and darling of God; at whose piercing look all cast down their eyes. Felicity likewise, rejoicing that she had borne a child in safety, that she might fight with the beasts, came now from blood to blood, from the midwife to the gladiator, to wash after her travail in a second baptism. And when they had been brought to the gate and were being compelled to put on, the men the dress of the priests of Saturn, the women the dress of the priestesses of Ceres, the noble Perpetua remained of like firmness to the end, and would not. For she said: For this cause came we willingly unto this, that our liberty might not be obscured. For this cause have we devoted our lives, that we might do no such thing as this; this we agreed with you. Injustice acknowledged justice; the tribune suffered that they should be brought forth as they were, without more ado. Perpetua began to sing, as already treading on the Egyptian’s head. Revocatus and Saturninus and Saturus threatened the people as they gazed. Then when they came into Hilarian’s sight, they began to say to Hilarian, stretching forth their hands and nodding their heads: You judge us, they said, and God you. At this the people being enraged besought that they should be vexed with scourges before the line of gladiators (those namely who fought with beasts). Then truly they gave thanks because they had received somewhat of the sufferings of the Lord.

    19. But He who had said Ask and you shall receive [John 16:24] gave to them asking that end which each had desired. For whenever they spoke together of their desire in their martyrdom, Saturninus for his part would declare that he wished to be thrown to every kind of beast, that so indeed he might wear the more glorious crown. At the beginning of the spectacle therefore himself with Revocatus first had ado with a leopard and was afterwards torn by a bear on a raised bridge. Now Saturus detested nothing more than a bear, but was confident already he should die by one bite of a leopard. Therefore when he was being given to a boar, the gladiator instead who had bound him to the boar was torn asunder by the same beast and died after the days of the games; nor was Saturus more than dragged. Moreover when he had been tied on the bridge to be assaulted by a bear, the bear would not come forth from his den. So Saturus was called back unharmed a second time.

    20. But for the women the devil had made ready a most savage cow, prepared for this purpose against all custom; for even in this beast he would mock their sex. They were stripped therefore and made to put on nets; and so they were brought forth. The people shuddered, seeing one a tender girl, the other her breasts yet dropping from her late childbearing. So they were called back and clothed in loose robes. Perpetua was first thrown, and fell upon her loins. And when she had sat upright, her robe being rent at the side, she drew it over to cover her thigh, mindful rather of modesty than of pain. Next, looking for a pin, she likewise pinned up her dishevelled hair; for it was not meet that a martyr should suffer with hair dishevelled, lest she should seem to grieve in her glory. So she stood up; and when she saw Felicity smitten down, she went up and gave her her hand and raised her up.. And both of them stood up together and the (hardness of the people being now subdued) were called back to the Gate of Life. There Perpetua being received by one named Rusticus, then a catechumen, who stood close at her side, and as now awakening from sleep (so much was she in the Spirit and in ecstasy) began first to look about her; and then (which amazed all there), When, forsooth, she asked, are we to be thrown to the cow? And when she heard that this had been done already, she would not believe till she perceived some marks of mauling on her body and on her dress. Thereupon she called her brother to her, and that catechumen, and spoke to them, saying: Stand fast in the faith, and love you all one another; and be not offended because of our passion.

    21. Saturus also at another gate exhorted Pudens the soldier, saying: So then indeed, as I trusted and foretold, I have felt no assault of beasts until now. And now believe with all your heart. Behold, I go out thither and shall perish by one bite of the leopard. And immediately at the end of the spectacle, the leopard being released, with one bite of his he was covered with so much blood that the people (in witness to his second baptism) cried out to him returning: Well washed, well washed. Truly it was well with him who had washed in this wise. Then said he to Pudens the soldier: Farewell; remember the faith and me; and let not these things trouble you, but strengthen you. And therewith he took from Pudens’ finger a little ring, and dipping it in his wound gave it back again for an heirloom, leaving him a pledge and memorial of his blood. Then as the breath left him he was cast down with the rest in the accustomed place for his throat to be cut. And when the people besought that they should be brought forward, that when the sword pierced through their bodies their eyes might be joined thereto as witnesses to the slaughter, they rose of themselves and moved, whither the people willed them, first kissing one another, that they might accomplish their martyrdom with the rites of peace. The rest not moving and in silence received the sword; Saturus much earlier gave up the ghost; for he had gone up earlier also, and now he waited for Perpetua likewise. But Perpetua, that she might have some taste of pain, was pierced between the bones and shrieked out; and when the swordsman’s hand wandered still (for he was a novice), herself set it upon her own neck. Perchance so great a woman could not else have been slain (being feared of the unclean spirit) had she not herself so willed it.

    O most valiant and blessed martyrs! O truly called and elected unto the glory of Our Lord Jesus Christ! Which glory he that magnifies, honors and adores, ought to read these witnesses likewise, as being no less than the old, unto the Church’s edification; that these new wonders also may testify that one and the same Holy Spirit works ever until now, and with Him God the Father Almighty, and His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, to Whom is glory and power unending for ever and ever. Amen.

    From W.H. Shewring, trans. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, (London: 1931).

First Sunday of Lent: Christ in the Desert

Garden Temptation
1 John
Jesus vs. Satan
Vows
Matthew 6
Mark 4
Good for eyes
Lust of eyes
Worship me and have kingdoms
poverty
alms
World
Good for food
Lust of flesh
Fasting vs. Bread
Chastity
Fasting
Flesh
Makes one wise
Pride of life
Temple/Test God
Obedience
Prayer
Devil