Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
The Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord--Easter: The Center of the Arena
It was the year 203. The place was Roman Carthage in North Africa. The scene was the arena. The occasion was a festival in honor of Caesar’s birthday. The main actors were two young mothers, 22 year old Perpetua and her servant girl, Felicity. Perpetua’s infant son was still nursing. Her greatest suffering was not having her baby with her in the prison. Felicity had given birth two days earlier. This was fortunate for the Romans and a blessing for Felicity. The Romans would not condemn a pregnant woman to death because that would mean killing an innocent child. Felicity wanted to join her mistress and fellow Christians in death. Her prayer was answered when she gave birth in the prison.
Perpetua, Felicity and three others had been sentenced to death because they refused to renounce their Christianity. “Can’t you say you are something else?” Perpetua’s father had pleaded with her. “Look at that pot,” Perpetua answered pointing to a vessel in their home. “Can you say that it is not a pot. So also, I am a Christian. I cannot say I am anything else.” So she and the others were condemned to death. Christians in Africa and the Middle East are still being put to death for what they believe.
I won’t go into the grisly details of Perpetua and Felicity’s death. Suffice it to say that the blood thirsty crowd got the show it wanted. One detail I will mention, though. After the first assault by a wild animal, Perpetua and Felicity were knocked down onto the arena’s sand. Some in the crowd complained
that they could not see they action because the girls had been thrown into a corner of the arena. Perpetua got up, dragged herself over to Felicity, and helped her up. The two then stumbled out to the center of the arena on their own so that all could see their giving witness to Christ.
What would lead these two young girls to make such a sacrifice? Only their confidence that they were part of something that was far more important than everything around them. The crowd mocked them. But their jeers didn’t matter. What mattered was the spiritual. Perpetua and Felicity were absolutely convinced in the existence of the spiritual. They had complete confidence that at their baptisms they received the life of Jesus Christ. When they walked to the center of the arena, they walked not to physical death, but to eternal life, the Life of Christ. And He was there, waiting for them.
We also are part of this. We are also spiritual beings who have received the Life of Jesus Christ at our baptisms. We are part of so much more than all we see around us.
Easter is a time of profound celebration. We celebrate the Life that Jesus restored for us when he destroyed eternal death with his own death on the cross. We celebrate His resurrection. We share in His resurrection. We have the life of God within us. Today is not merely a celebration of something that happened 2000 years ago. This is a celebration of life, eternal life, His eternal life and our eternal lives. Today is a day of renewal. The flowers remind us that the earth is restored to its original beauty.
Baptism is celebrated in today’s liturgy. We renew our baptismal promises at all the Masses of Easter. When we do this we are renewing our commitment to Jesus Christ. We are renewing our commitment to the spiritual above us, around us, and within us. We proclaim that we renounce sin. We renounce Satan. We proclaim our belief in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We proclaim our belief that God’s life within us is infinitely more important than anything the world has to offer us. We work hard to spread the Kingdom of God. We raise our children not just to be successful adults in the world, but to be children for the Lord. We are in the business of raising children for God.
But we are limited by our humanity. We are frail. We easily give in to sin. We cannot give up. He will give us all we need to walk to the center of the arena, to testify to the world that Jesus lives.
He made the lame walk, and the dumb talk
And He opened blinded eyes to see
That the sun rises on His time,
yet He knows our deepest desperate need.
And the world waits, while His heart aches,
To realize the dream.
I wonder what life would be like if we let Jesus live through you and me.... © CCLI License # 2368115
That’s from a contemporary Christian song writer with the marvelous name, Big Daddy Weave.
I wonder what life would be like if we let Jesus live through you and me. I know my life would be much simpler, far more joyful, and far more meaningful if I just let Jesus take control. I know our lives are overflowing with love whenever we put the Love that Became Flesh in the center of our family.
Felicity needed Perpetua. She needed her mistress to help her onto her feet. And Perpetua needed Felicity. She could not give up on her own physical life until she gave her final support to her friend. We need each other. We need the support of our Christian community, our Catholic Community to help each other walk to the center of the arena.
Jesus is there in the center of the arena. He is crucified. No, wait, he is risen from the dead. He is both saving us and giving us his life. There is a countless number of others there too. Look, there is Perpetua and Felicity, and Ignatius of Antioch, and Maximilian Kolbe and John Paul II. And there’s your saintly grandmother, and your Dad who died so young, and there is Fr. John LaTondress, and Johnna and Bailee, and Lisa, and all those who have gone before us united to God. They are there calling us to them. They are calling us to the center of the arena. We pray for the courage to join them. We pray for the courage to shout out to the world, “We are Christians. We are God’s people. We live for him. We die for him. We live eternally.”
Happy and Blessed Easter!