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Only the one true God is to be worshipped and glorified

       Let’s suppose you are a young woman 22 years old. You have an infant baby you are nursing. For whatever reason, the child’s father is not in the picture. But your father is, and he is very concerned about your welfare. Though old and frail, your father does what he can to assist you.

       You have recently had an encounter with a person who has changed your whole outlook on life. No longer is life a meaningless series of days, weeks and years laden with toil, but a gift that brings you meaning and joy and purpose. That person is Jesus the Christ, and your encounter with him also introduces you to a whole new set of friends and acquaintances who have experienced the same encounter with Christ.

       However, this encounter that brings you a new outlook on life also brings with it unwanted attention from the local government, and this government does not look kindly upon your new friends and acquaintances. Why? Because now that you and all your new friends are worshipping Jesus the Christ and not the ruler of the government and its gods, all the local temples devoted to the ruler and its gods are empty.

       Without business in these temples being transacted, there is nothing to help the local economy. For example, no one is buying the incense that is necessary to burn when offering sacrifice to the ruler.

       Thus, you and your new friends are deemed a threat to this government. You are labeled an outsider, an agitator and an atheist!

       So this government poses to you a question: will you, or will you not, worship the ruler of this government? If so, all is well, and your life will be spared. But if not, torture and death lie ahead. This government will even make it easy for you to come to a decision: you yourself are not required to offer sacrifice to the government ruler; you can send a proxy who will do so in your name.

       Now your father weighs in. “You are young! You have a baby to care for. I, myself, need help as well. Just go along with what the government wants you to do. Your death would accomplish nothing!”

       You know who else weighs in on all this? Your new friends and acquaintances. “To offer worship to the ruler of this government is to worship an idol! Only the one true God is to be worshipped and glorified. If you acquiesce, your very soul is at risk.”

       Your name is Perpetua. You live in Carthage in the early third century. The Roman Empire, not to mention your own father, is breathing down your neck. You must decide.

       So, what will it be?

       Fortunately, you and I don’t have to make such a decision. But we do have to make a decision that smacks of Perpetua’s.

       Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Lent is that season of the year that cuts to the bone of the Christian faith, for the season asks this: what are you willing to give up - die to - to have everlasting life?

       We all have our favorite sins. Lent is asking us to unfriend them.

       Lent is serious business. Yes, it’s fun to sit in the auditorium of the parish school on Friday nights and chow down on fried fish and swill beer, all the while bantering with your pastor. But lurking behind all that is the same question that Perpetua had to face: what are you willing to die for, to let go of?

       The sign of that death is given to us on the very first day of Lent: ashes. And this year, due to COVID-19, many will receive ashes sprinkled on top of the head instead of being smeared on the forehead.

       Think about that. Ashes in your hair. Commingling with your scalp. Before, all you had to do was wipe off the ashes with a cloth. Now, you’re going to have to wash your hair!

       Small potatoes when compared to Perpetua’s problem.

       Sometime this Lent, a Mass will be celebrated somewhere in which Eucharistic Prayer I will be prayed. Listen carefully to that prayer. You will hear her name spoken: Perpetua.

       Two thousand years ago a young mother died rather than deny Christ. This coming Lent, what are you willing to die to in order to cleave to Christ?

      

       Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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