Prayers today: My eyes are ever fixed on the Lord, for he releases my feet from the snare. O look at me and be merciful, for I am wretched and alone (Psalm 24:15-16).
Father, you have taught us to overcome our sins by prayer, fasting and works of mercy. When we are discouraged by our weakness, give us confidence in your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Saints Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203?)
“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 amphitheatre. 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.
The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Luke (13.1~9)
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them— do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Then he told this parable: A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.' (Luke 13:1-9)
Suffering and repentance
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)
There are two events which our Lord comments on in today’s Gospel which may be said to sum up much of the experience of mankind, and much of what mankind must grapple with when it comes to religion. The two events are the massacre of the Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices,” and the sudden tragedy of the “eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them.” They involved murder and natural disaster. The lives of human beings are suddenly snuffed out because of an act of man or the turn of natural events. This pattern recurs repeatedly all through history and untold loss of life results. Hurricanes, tidal waves, bush fires, plagues and earthquakes suddenly sweep away up to hundreds of thousands of souls, leaving a train of suffering in their wake to countless families and communities. Alternatively, war and merciless cruelty thunders over populations, leaving the smoke of the dead and their towns and farms rising as far as the eye can see. Typically, modern man will see these tragedies as calling into question the very existence of a good and all-powerful God. If he is supposed to exist and be present everywhere, what is he doing? What is more common in human history is not a movement from the sight of evil and suffering towards atheism. Commonly, the fact of God is an unquestioned given, whatever be the puzzles of the world. Rather, the tendency is to interpret the harsh events of life as a judgment. Just as in civil society man is punished proportionately for misdemeanours and crime, so man tends to interpret the sufferings of life as a proportionate punishment for his own sins. He is conscious of sin, and he is certain of the existence of the gods, and so he tends to think that his sufferings are an exact reprisal for his sins. The gods are not pleased with him, he thinks, and so they inflict him with the evils he is undergoing. In the revealed religion of the Old Testament, suffering and death appear at the dawn of history due to the sin of man (Genesis 3). Moreover, in the history of the chosen people, God often punishes sins (such as his punishment of Moses for his lack of faith, and of David for his murder of Uriah.)
But this is not to say that the sufferings man endures are simply due to his own sins, nor is it to say that they are necessarily in proportion to his own sins. What, then, is the meaning of the sufferings that we endure? There are many answers to this, and our Lord gives one in our Gospel passage today. Our Lord is told of the massacre by Pilate of several in the place of worship. In response to this news he refers also to the tragedy of the collapse of the Tower of Siloam. Our Lord does not say that they were not sinners. Nor does he say that their sins had absolutely nothing to do with their suffering. He does not comment on the sins of those who had died, except to say that their sufferings were not an indicator that they were greater sinners than others. What he does say is that their sudden and unprovoked death is a reminder to others that they must take heed to their own situation. If they do not repent, the final upshot of their sins will be death. That is to say, sin will lead to death. We are reminded of what St Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, that the wages of sin are death, and that it was because of one man’s sin that death entered the world and spread to the whole human race. And so our Lord concludes his comment on the ones who had been massacred by Pilate, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” It is the same with those who were killed by the falling tower “ — do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” He reinforces his point by providing yet another image, this time drawn from the fig tree that produces no figs. “A man had a fig-tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, 'For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?' 'Sir,' the man replied, 'leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig round it and fertilise it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down” (Luke 13:1-9). The sufferings of this life ought lead to repentance, be they our own sufferings, or those of others.
In actual fact, elsewhere our Lord shows — especially in his own person — that suffering can be an essential part of a high mission from God. Suffering has been made redemptive by our Lord. But it also reminds us of the need to repent. All are invited by Jesus to enter the Kingdom of God. Even the worst of sinners is called to convert from his sins and to accept the boundless mercy of the Father. Already here on earth, the Kingdom belongs to those who accept it with a humble heart. To them the mysteries of the Kingdom are revealed. Let us then be reminded of the final upshot of unrepented sin, and turning away from sin, let us believe wholeheartedly in the Gospel.