We rejoice in the great things that St. Francis did during his lifetime and continues to do in the communion of saints. But those who spend time meditating on the words of Francis reflect on the hiddenness and humility he so valued during his lifetime. It serves as a reminder not to desire fame and fortune but to seek only the grace of God.
"When my father in his affection for me was trying to turn me from my purpose by arguments and thus weaken my faith, I said to him, 'Do you see this vessel—waterpot or whatever it may be? Can it be called by any other name than what it is?' 'No,' he replied. 'So also I cannot call myself by any other name than what I am—a Christian.'"
So writes Perpetua, young, beautiful, well-educated, a noblewoman of Carthage, mother of an infant son and chronicler of the persecution of the Christians by Emperor Septimius Severus.
Despite threats of persecution and death, Perpetua, Felicity (a slavewoman and expectant mother) and three companions, Revocatus, Secundulus and Saturninus, refused to renounce their Christian faith. For their unwillingness, all were sent to the public games in the amphitheater. There, Perpetua and Felicity were beheaded, and the others killed by beasts.
Perpetua's mother was a Christian and her father a pagan. He continually pleaded with her to deny her faith. She refused and was imprisoned at 22.
In her diary, Perpetua describes her period of captivity: "What a day of horror! Terrible heat, owing to the crowds! Rough treatment by the soldiers! To crown all, I was tormented with anxiety for my baby.... Such anxieties I suffered for many days, but I obtained leave for my baby to remain in the prison with me, and being relieved of my trouble and anxiety for him, I at once recovered my health, and my prison became a palace to me and I would rather have been there than anywhere else."
Felicity gave birth to a girl a few days before the games commenced.
Perpetua's record of her trial and imprisonment ends the day before the games. "Of what was done in the games themselves, let him write who will." The diary was finished by an eyewitness.
Persecution for religious beliefs is not confined to Christians in ancient times. Consider Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who, with her family, was forced into hiding and later died in Bergen-Belsen, one of Hitler's death camps during World War II. Anne, like Perpetua and Felicity, endured hardship and suffering and finally death because she committed herself to God. In her diary Anne writes, "It's twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God."
Perpetua, unwilling to renounce Christianity, comforted her father in his grief over her decision, "It shall happen as God shall choose, for assuredly we depend not on our own power but on the power of God."
It is always nice to be in the presence of friends. When I come into your presence, O Lord, I know I am in the presence of my Creator. You created me out of Love. You even know the amount of hairs on my head. Your presence, O Lord, is the greatest of all.
Lord, you granted me the great gift of freedom. In these times, O Lord, grant that I may be free From any form of racism or intolerance. Remind me, Lord, that we are all equal in your Loving eyes.
In the presence of my loving Creator, I look honestly at my feelings over the last day, the highs, the lows and the level ground. Can I see where the Lord has been present?
The Word of God
Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent
Reading 1 Is 65:17-21
Thus says the LORD: Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; The things of the past shall not be remembered or come to mind. Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create; For I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight; I will rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people. No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying; No longer shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime; He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years, and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed. They shall live in the houses they build, and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.
Responsorial Psalm PS 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b
R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear and did not let my enemies rejoice over me. O LORD, you brought me up from the nether world; you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger lasts but a moment; a lifetime, his good will. At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
"Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me; O LORD, be my helper." You changed my mourning into dancing; O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Verse Before the Gospel Am 5:14
Seek good and not evil so that you may live, and the LORD will be with you.
Gospel Jn 4:43-54
At that time Jesus left [Samaria] for Galilee. For Jesus himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his native place. When he came into Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, since they had seen all he had done in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves had gone to the feast.
Then he returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. Now there was a royal official whose son was ill in Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, who was near death. Jesus said to him, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe." The royal official said to him, "Sir, come down before my child dies." Jesus said to him, "You may go; your son will live." The man believed what Jesus said to him and left. While the man was on his way back, his slaves met him and told him that his boy would live. He asked them when he began to recover. They told him, "The fever left him yesterday, about one in the afternoon." The father realized that just at that time Jesus had said to him, "Your son will live," and he and his whole household came to believe. Now this was the second sign Jesus did when he came to Galilee from Judea.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs (Optional Memorial)
This was the second sign Jesus did. (John 4:54)
Can you picture a two-stranded braid? If so, you can imagine the two words sign and believe being intertwined in today's Gospel. Sign appears twice, and believe, three times—no coincidence, since they form a common thread running through John's Gospel. If we recognize the signs, John tells us, our belief in Jesus will grow. Jesus himself linked the two, saying, "Unless you people see signs . . . you will not believe" (John 4:48).
So how do we know a sign when we see one—and are they all miraculous? Not necessarily. You can find at least three of them in today's Gospel. The first appeared in the testimonies of the townspeople. When the official heard that Jesus was a miracle-worker, he believed.
Then, when the official asked Jesus to come heal his son, Jesus told him to go home, that the boy would live. These words of Jesus' were the second sign. When the official heard them, his belief grew. Jesus didn't need to be present to heal! His word alone could do it.
After the official returned home, he found his son recovering—the final sign. And his belief grew even more, along with that of his household.
Did you notice that some of these signs were less obviously supernatural than others? It's the same for our lives too. How often have you felt that God was speaking to you through your spouse or through a Sunday homily? Maybe you've opened the Bible to a random page, only to read exactly what you need to hear. Or maybe you've narrowly escaped what should have been certain calamity. These moments are signs too—ways that God is weaving grace into your day-to-day life. They strengthen our belief that Jesus is real, that he loves us, and that he is with us.
Did you also notice that two out of three signs came after the official began seeking Jesus? It's amazing how many you can find in the middle of your search for him! So what signs of God's presence are awaiting your discovery this Lent? They could be anywhere, so keep on the lookout. And let them move you into deeper and fuller belief in Jesus.
"Lord Jesus, open my eyes to see a sign of grace today."
my2cents: In the first Holy Scripture we read today "Lo, I am about to create new heavens and a new earth". Can God create new Heavens? New earths? Of course He can. Can He create a new you? Now the question is getting deep. Because if God can do anything...can He do anything with you? The answer? It comes from deep within. Can He? May He? I've written a couple of notes to self during the Mass and homily. One said this later on in the day yesterday "To love is to give the object of your love, the power over your life". Think about that. Because during lent, we are to get detached from this world. The new Heavens await. The Psalms we pray today say "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me." Rescued me from what? Has the Lord been given an opportunity in your life? An opportunity to save? I've heard of some that experience saving, and some never speak about it. Some have been given an opportunity to forgive and some do not. In our Renew class yesterday, we were asked to do homework, and I told the guys to think about who we could forgive in our lives. The guys were like me, kind of wondering who in the world would need our forgiveness. So when someone offends you, they actually give you an opportunity to gain Heaven, to gain forgiveness by how we forgive. Have you given the Lord an opportunity in your life? Our Lord comes into our lives: "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe." Is this the only way we will believe? Seeing signs and wonders? Because I promise, a tremendous miracle brings very few into the faith. A small miracle, who knows if it even gets noticed. It's like Jesus, if He appears in majesty, few will accept, and if He appears as a daily janitor, or gardener, practically nobody will notice. It is about death and resurrection. It is about believing or not. It is about seeking Him or not. Do you seek Him just to get what you want? Why not seek Him for something more...like being the love of your life? I was asked a question over the weekend "can you suggest a retreat I should go to?" because they want to get closer to the Lord. I said "just say yes to any retreat" any and all. If I seek Him, truly, if I want to be with Him, the answer always has to be yes. If the answer is no, then He is not your first Love. Because I have spent my life going to retreats and leading retreats and this year already lining up retreats. Each one is unique and memorable. Whether in a one horse town or a big city, whether a few hours at a monastery, or off in the mountains. I've done them all and look forward to the next. Why? Because I am seeking the Lord constantly, all day every day. I asked a young teenager yesterday that was upset with his divorced mother being with another man, "do you pray?" and it turns out, he prays maybe once a day. Many of us pray once we remember or need something. That's not a healthy life in the Spirit. Too many tend to bodily needs and not spiritual needs. Too many suffer in the body because the spirit is suffering. I tell you this so that you may believe and not seek for self things that are not good in the end. He gives good in hopes that you become the good He gives...and His body is the goodness we seek. His light and truth...