Vibia Perpetua was a newly married woman of good family. And upbringing in North Africa during the early times when the Church faced persecutions.
She was among a number of young catechumens who were arrested. Some of them included Revocatus and his fellow slave, Felicitas, Saturninus ans Secundulus.
While she awaited her time to witness to Christ by the shedding of her blood, her father tried to convince her to have a change of mind. Here is how the account goes as related by Perpetua herself:
While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. “Father,” said I, “do you see this vase here, for example, or water-pot or whatever?”
“Yes, I do”, he said.
And I told him: “Could it be called by any other name than what it is?”
And he said: “No”.
“Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.”
At this my father was so angered by the word “Christian” that he moved towards me as though he would pluck my eyes out. But he left it at that and departed, vanquished along with his diabolical arguments. For a few days afterwards I gave thanks to the Lord that I was separated from my father, and I was comforted by his absence. During these few days I was baptized, and I was inspired by the Spirit not to ask for any other favour after the water but simply the perseverance of the flesh.
A few days later we were lodged in the prison at Carthage; and I was terrified, as I had never before been in such a dark hole… I was tortured with worry for my baby there…
I tried to comfort my brother and gave the child into his charge. I was in pain because I saw them suffering out of pity for me. These were the trials I had to endure for many days. Then I got permission for my baby to stay with me in prison. At once I recovered my health, relieved as I was of my worry and anxiety over the child. My prison had suddenly become a palace, so that I wanted to be there rather than anywhere else.
What a great and courageous woman and loving mother for Christ and for the faith! The interesting part of her account which draws my attention for reflection is her comparison of the vase or water-pot to the identity of Christian, a follower of the Lord Jesus.
As we begin the year of faith, we also commence the epiphany of the New Evangelisation as proclaimed by Benedict XVI and welcomed by the whole Church. It is epiphany because the late 1990s according to Blessed John Paul II marked the advent of the new evangelization. This advent has been termed by Scot Hahn not just a nice, but a necessary; not a sprint but a marathon program.
With the example of the saints, we can also learn how to navigate the waters of this earthly voyage. Perpetua teaches us by her life and words that we are Christians and are like water-pots holding within us the Water of life, Christ the Lord.
The water-pot isn’t a water-pot unless it holds within it a great measure of water. To be Christian, we must bear in our hearts, Christ and his command to conversion which rightly marks the start of both the year of faith and the new evangelisation as Benedict XVI has called us. This truly was how our Lord began his new evangelisation among his own people, his listeners. Repent and believe the good news. Cf. Mark 1:15.
To be true to who we are as Christians is become open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit who makes receptivity not only possible but also perdure. After Christ the Lord proclaimed the advent of his ministry of salvation, the Spirit “drove” him as it were into the desert of solitude with God where he overcame the tempter.
Setting forth before us the year of faith appropriately opens the doors of faith to us all. We have to enter through to meet with and dialogue with God, the source of life. We need renewal of life in a world that often wants to go astray from a loving and righteous Father.
Unlike the father of Perpetua, God constantly urges us to comply with the promptings of His Spirit in us (cf. Rom. 5:6) His fatherly goodness will enable us participate well in ordering our lives here on earth aright and lead us to use our technical progress for a spiritual end, the salvation of souls and the new earth.
More often our technical progress in medicare, digitalisation of communications, art, economy, culture, etc often put into our hands and minds feelings of power and security. These, as we saw in the fall of man at the beginning, are false. They don’t guarantee eternal assurances of life.
Our technical progress can find their place and relevance when placed at the service of the human person, the greatest good of the common good of the human race. Therefore, the use of arms and ammunitions must serve to promote and protect lives and allowed for indiscriminate use or abuse. Instruments of media representation of reality must not compromise consciences but serve to form and inform the mind towards deliberate choosing of good over evil.
Moreso, the research and results of medical science must take into cognizance the service it owes the human dignity of the human person. Such God-given right often labelled as inalienable but without tacit approval of God as its source, must be served by healthcare professionals of diverse backgrounds.
In all, man doesn’t exist for himself alone. There is so much therefore that man’s capacity and capabilities must do in favour of serving a higher cause, the goal of life beyond earthly existence. The voice of Perpetua calls us all, believers and non-believers alike to heed the voice of wisdom and reason towards making this world and our life better in the service of God and humanity.