My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
I am so happy to be with you today to celebrate this great anniversary. We first want to give thanks to God for the founders of your parish. And we want to pray for all those people through the years — known and unknown — who sacrificed to help build this church and make it grow.
As you all know, your patron saints were great witnesses to the faith in the Church’s first generation.
And it’s fitting that we celebrate this anniversary today, which is also Respect Life Sunday. Because, as we know, Felicitas was eight months pregnant and Perpetua was a nursing mother when they were put in prison.
So your patrons are powerful witnesses to the Gospel of life. We should ask them today to help us renew our commitment to defend the sanctity and dignity of all human life — from conception, through life until natural death.
The readings that we just heard today from the Sacred Scriptures are also fitting. The readings all talk to us about faith in God, which is the rock and foundation that we should build our lives on.
And the story of Sts. Perpetua and Felicitas is a story about faith. At every point in their journey to martyrdom, they were offered the chance — to reject their faith and live. But they refused.
So this anniversary calls us all to reflect on the meaning of our faith and how strong we are in our faith.
Our first reading from the prophet Habakkuk is a dialogue between the prophet and God. The prophet says his life is hard. He’s surrounded by misery and destruction and violence. There is all sorts of political strife and confusion.
It is kind of a description of the world ever since the Garden of Eden and the original sin. This is the world we have to live in. This is the world — we have to redeem.
And that’s what God tells the prophet. He tells him to “hold on,” to “hang in there.” And God makes this great promise. He says:
For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment
and will not disappoint .... Wait for it, it will surely come.
The vision that he is talking about here is the reality of His Kingdom. God is still building his Kingdom in the world — every day, through his Church.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to realize that. Because there is in fact, so much injustice and violence. But God is listening. He is working — in the world and in every human life — to bring his plan for salvation to fulfillment in history.
But we need faith to understand God’s plans. So God also tells the prophet in our reading today:
The just one, because of his faith, shall live.
In the Gospel passage that we heard this morning, Jesus is also teaching his disciples the same thing — that we need to live by faith.
And that is what the Apostles are asking Jesus for. They come to Jesus with such honesty and simplicity. They don’t ask him for a lot of money or for new privileges. They ask him for one simple thing: Lord, increase our faith!
This should be a prayer that we are saying all the time. Lord, increase our faith!
We all need more faith. No matter who we are. We all need greater awareness of God’s presence in our lives and in our world. We need to be better friends with God. We need to do more with the gifts he gives us.
I think it’s important for us to remember that our faith is not only a set of beliefs and certain things we do on Sunday. The foundation of our faith is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
So we need to grow in our relationship with Jesus and our trust in his promise of salvation. We need to closer to him — through our prayer and our reading the Gospels. And we need to follow his teachings more closely, trying to be more like him.
Then, we need to remember, my brothers and sisters, that our faith is not just something for us to keep to ourselves. Jesus has a mission for each one of us. He tells us today that our faith calls us to service.
Our faith calls us to follow Jesus in proclaiming God’s Kingdom and sharing his love and mercy. In fact, Jesus — in today’s passage of the Gospel — says that we need to be like servants who work in the field all day and then come home at night and are still serving. This is our beautiful Christian vocation: to love God and one another!
One final point for us to reflect on this morning, my brothers and sisters. In the second reading that we heard today, the Apostle Paul tells us: Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord.
This is important. Living our faith in this culture is hard. We face opposition and misunderstanding. We’re tempted sometimes to be discouraged, and even keep our faith to ourselves. But God is with us! We need to remember that.
This is the faith that your patron saints, Felicitas and Perpetua, had. They could have saved their lives — all they had to do was say they did not believe in Jesus. But they would rather die than live without him.
There is that beautiful moment in their story, when Perpetua is in jail and her father comes to her and begs her to give up her faith and live. And Perpetua points to a container of water on the floor of her prison cell and says, “Can that be called any other name than what it is? So I cannot call myself anything else than what I am — a Christian.”2
That’s who we are, my brothers and sisters. Christians! Let’s live what we believe, every day.
So on this beautiful anniversary, let’s ask the Lord to increase our faith, so we can live with the confidence and courage of Saints Felicitas and Perpetua.
And may Our Lady of the Angels, patroness of this great Archdiocese of Los Angeles, help us all to grow to deeper knowledge and love of her Son.
1. Readings (Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C): Hab. 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Ps. 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Tim. 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10.
2. "Martyrdom of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas," in Fremantle, A Treasury of Early Christianity.