Saint Petronille, Virgin and Martyr

Today’s Gospel: Luke 9:23-26

Saint Petronille could have had everything.  Pursued by her suitor Count Flaccus, she could have lived a very comfortable life that maybe she would have seen as a just reward for her years of service.  Whether she was Saint Peter’s daughter as one legend tells us, or a spiritual daughter and manager of his household which another legend argues, she was certainly a servant of the Lord in the house of Saint Peter.  One might think she would be well rewarded to marry Flaccus and live that comfortable life after all she had done for Saint Peter.

But Petronille knew better than that.  She seems to have been well versed in today’s Gospel reading.  She knew that even if she were to gain the whole world by being the wife of Flaccus, she would be forfeiting herself.  She must have known that she would be forced to make the decision that confronted her friends Felicula and Saint Nicodemus: sacrifice to the idols and live, or stick to Christian ways and die.  But all three of them saw that choice differently than Flaccus and the Romans would present it.  For Petronille, Felicula and Nicodemus, sacrificing to the idols would be no life at all.

We don’t know much about Saint Petronille’s martyrdom.  All we are told is that after three days of fasting, prayer and reception of Holy Communion, she “migrated to the Lord.”  After three days – the perfect time, and in many ways for her, a lifetime of prayer and service – she received the reward that we all must hope for.  Whatever the details are, we know that her life and her death inspired others to live and die for Christ.  Her companion Felicula, and even Nicodemus – perhaps the same Nicodemus who first came to Jesus at night – were inspired by Petronille to give their lives rather than sacrifice to the Roman gods.

Her life and death then, can be inspiration for us too.  As we live our lives, we will be tempted by many comforts that would consequently take us out of service to Christ.  We will be tempted to sacrifice to the idols of this world, rather than to take the hard road and follow the Lord.  But we must remember, as Saint Petronille did, that “whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for [the sake of Christ] will save it.”  We have to see in Saint Petronille the firm conviction that this life’s treasures mean nothing if they take us away from eternal life with Christ, which is the greatest treasure of all.

That’s a wonderful message on this Memorial Day, isn’t it?  Just like Saint Petronille, many of our friends and family have given their lives in the service of something greater than themselves.  For them it was country and freedom, just as for the virgin martyrs like Petronille it was Christ.  We are grateful to all of these men and women, saints and ordinary soldiers, for the blessings we have as a result of their sacrifice.

You see, Saint Petronille really did have it all.  She just knew it wasn’t coming in this passing life.  She knew that she would indeed be well rewarded, and live a comfortable life in marriage – only that marriage was to Christ himself.  Let us see in Saint Petronille that we too must deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Christ.