So, yesterday was my birthday. And that got me thinking about my patron saints.
If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you. That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.
I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect. As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name. Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith. I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience. He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.” That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God. As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)
When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28. Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.
Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.
If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this. Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage. Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family. Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman. The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.
The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them. In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life. Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.
The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators. They have been honored ever since. As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.
I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity. But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time. Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.