The first time I heard her story, I had to lift my jaw from the floor. I had asked for an example of a holy woman of God who was daring, unique, and a little bit sassy. A model of femininity and virtue. Basically, I wanted a Catholic Wonder-Woman. But the woman I got was so much better.
St. Perpetual: A Model of Holiness Through the Ages
Despite being an early Church martyr, St. Perpetua has so much to teach us as modern women. Two thousand years after her death, St. Perpetua has left a legacy of valiant womanhood through her radical courage, her surpassing purity, and her undying confidence in the Lord.
Her Radical Courage
St. Perpetua was born into a noble family and would’ve had life easy as a Roman citizen. Her conscience and the gift of faith, however, pursued her until she came to believe in Christianity. In so professing her belief in Christ, Perpetua knew she would make enemies, including within her own family. Perpetua’s father was extremely disappointed in his daughter and begged her to change her mind. But the love of the Lord had hooked Perpetua, and there was no reeling her away. Her pull towards Christ was so strong that she was willing to both lose family and face torture and martyrdom for the sake of her newfound love.
As modern women, we are not usually called to face brutal death for the sake of our Faith. But professing and living the Faith in the modern world can frequently serve as a form of social martyrdom. How often have you received strange glances when making the Sign of the Cross before meals? Have you ever been ridiculed and publicly belittled for being a Catholic? Perhaps the more important question is, however, have those glances led you to omitting the Sign of the Cross at your public gatherings? Have you chosen to stay quiet about your beliefs for fear of the condemnation you may receive?
We live in an era in which we cannot be passionately Catholic and “fit in” with society. The two have become mutually exclusive. In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians he told them that they are in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom they must shine as lights to the world (Philippians 2:15). We, the women of today, are also so called to shine our lights in the world. Our lights may not be welcome, and they may not be in style, but that is no excuse to stop shining.
Her Surpassing Purity
During the course of her torment and martyrdom, St. Perpetua was thrown to the ground and her torn cloak exposed her leg bare. Yet even in this moment, Perpetua was aware of the dignity of her body, and fixed her clothes for the sake of modesty. The virtue of modesty can be manifested in many ways, including the way we interact with people, the things which we read or see, and the manner in which we clothe ourselves.
Modesty and purity are all about recognizing the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our bodies, and thus treating the temple of our body with the utmost respect. Modesty does not mean hiding the body because it is bad or sinful, but protecting it because it is good and precious. We were bought with a great price, the Passion of Jesus Christ, and in return we ought to glorify God in our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20).
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Her Undying Confidence in the Lord
Personally, I find that the world is in the midst of a “confidence craze.” Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded with messages telling us to be self-confident and affirming us in our insecurities. Children are reinforced that they can be anything that they want to be if they just dream big enough. We are assured that if we are just confident enough in ourselves and in our abilities, we will be strong enough to complete any difficult or challenging obstacle.
This “confidence craze,” is coming from a good place, but I know from personal experience that it can be taken too far. Yes, we can do anything, but not through our own power.
I’ve played soccer for the greater part of my life. I misplaced all my trust and confidence in myself and my abilities. This worked really well on the good days, but on the tough days, it left me feeling very confused and very hurt. If I was good enough by myself, why did I sometimes fail? If I only needed to be confident in myself, why were there days that what I could do simply wasn’t enough? I had put all of my confidence in something as transitory and unstable as my soccer skills. This “self-confidence” that was supposed to fix all my insecurities was not working. It was a long and painful process, and one I’m still working on, but I have chosen to stop thinking of my goal as “self-confidence,” but rather as “God-confidence.”
When we are confident in God, rather than in ourselves, we can praise Him for the gifts He has given us. When we are confident in God, rather than in ourselves, defeat does not appear as a failure, but as an opportunity for growth and the chance for us to lean on His strength.
Through the Eyes of God
When faced with martyrdom, St. Perpetua rejoiced. She did not view her life through her own eyes, but through the eyes of God. The moment of her story which solidified St. Perpetua as a Saint-crush for me took place during her brutal torture. After being injured, she stood up in the arena. Then, fully aware of her dignity and of the beauty of the death she is about to endure, she confidently pinned up her disheveled hair for the whole crowd to see. St. Perpetua was not able to power through by any power of her own. Her driving force was the Holy Spirit. She never despaired. Her confidence was rooted in Someone much, much stronger than herself. Rather than being confident in herself, she was confident in Christ. And that confidence did not fail her.
A Beautiful Intercessor
St. Perpetua lived as a model for all Christians, and bears proof of the fact through her title of Saint. I believe, that through her radical courage, her surpassing purity, and her undying confidence in the Lord, she particularly serves as an example for us women of today. I pray, that following in her footsteps, we may all one day shine that example to women of the future.
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Mary Grace Tillman, or Gracie, is a student, daughter, sister, friend, and full-time extrovert. If you don’t find her on the nearest soccer field, she is probably lost down some country road with the windows down and tunes blaring. She loves to praise God through music and sports and she strives to live life to the fullest.