This fourth week of Lent we come to another grace for the Christian life according to St. Peter: endurance.
We all know that endurance means that something is sustained over time. This grace becomes the perfection all the others we’ve mentioned. It’s one thing to make one act of faith… one moment of humility… one period of continence… But to maintain these and the other graces on which we’ve meditated for a lifetime. That is spiritual perfection. Indeed, if we think of the ultimate state of perfection – heaven – we realize that is is marked precisely by endurance; it is everlasting.
So much for what endurance is… Now, how do we achieve it? For that we turn the example of the early Church which endured three centuries of persecutions under the Roman Empire. These first generations of martyrs are always a highlight of our Lenten journey because they endured in faith even unto death. Their endurance sprang from a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and with each other. Only one who has been personally touched by God has the inspiration necessary for faith that endures martyrdom. Only one who has personally known the martyrs can pass on their torch with lasting conviction. Two saints exemplify the case: Felicity and Perpetua.
They were young Christian women, and friends in second century Roman North Africa. Felicity was, in fact, Perpetua’s maid-servant. During the persecutions of Emperor Septimius Severus both women were separated from their husbands and children and sent to prison. Perpetua’s father, a local [pagan] nobleman, pleaded with her to renounce Christ for the sake of her husband and child, but she refused. Led to the center of the ring, Perpetua called out to the crowds, “Stand firm in faith, love on another and do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.” Two women, personally touched by Christ… personally encouraged and affirmed by each other’s Christian friendship found the endurance needed to exemplify heroic virtue.
Such endurance is not just the possession of distant antiquity. Just last week Muslim extremists in Yemen raided a convent of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns). Four sisters and twelve of aged men and women they cared for (It was a home for the elderly poor) were brutally killed for their Christian faith (note: the patients were not necessarily Christian… they were killed simply for being in the care of Christians). Only women deeply and personally in love with Jesus and each other would (a) go to a war-torn place of deep poverty to serve the poor, (b) stay there in the midst of a civil war, and (c) endure in their faith unto death. They are martyrs of today, saints in eternity. May they and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta pray for their persecutors.
How deep does my relationship with Jesus go? Do I have a network of Christian friendships that supports me in my faith? What would I be willing to endure for the sake of that faith?
Felicity, Perpetua and the Martyrs of Yemen… Pray for us who have recourse to thee! -Amen
Excerpt from the Martyrdom of the Christians at Carthage
Perpetua was the first to be thrown down, and she fell prostrate. She got up seeing that Felicity had also fallen, wen over and reached out to her and lifted her up. Both stood together. The hostility of the crowd was appeased, and the were ordered to the gate. There Perpetua was welcomed by another Christian named Rusticus. Rousing herself (so deeply had she been in spiritual ecstasy), she began to look around. To the amazement of all she said, “When are we going to be led to the beast?” When she heard she was already there, she did not at first believe until she saw the marks of violence on her body. She addressed them in these words, “Stand firm in faith, love one another ad do not be tempted to do anything wrong because of our sufferings.”