January 20, 2018

Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Saint Agnes

Memorial - January 21st 

(In 2018, this feast is superseded by the Sunday liturgy.)

Saint Agnes is numbered among the most famous martyrs of the early Church. When the Diocletian persecution was at its height, and when priests as well as laymen were apostatizing from the faith, Agnes freely chose to die for Christ. When she was commanded to offer incense to false gods, she raised her hand to God and made the Sign of the Cross. The following is excerpted from a reflection by Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois on St. Agnes’ great courage and enduring example:

St. Agnes of Rome: Her Life & Faithful Witness

By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois

"Little is known of St. Agnes. She died as a martyr in Rome somewhere near the beginning of the fourth century, only 12 or 13 at her death. Legend has it she was a very beautiful girl whom many men wanted to marry. She, however, had promised God to remain a virgin and to seek a life of holiness and prayer. One of the men whom she refused reported her to the government as being a Christian. Arrested, she was confined to a house of prostitution. While there, one man looked at her with lust and immediately lost his sight. Agnes restored his sight through prayer. Later, Agnes was condemned, executed, and buried near Rome. Today, a basilica stands in Rome in her honor. St. Augustine and St. Ambrose wrote extensively of her…"

"The church of today rests on the blood of martyrs. Thousands of Christians, much like Agnes, have been put to death for their belief in Jesus Christ. While most martyrs are of the earliest centuries of Christianity, there are martyrs right up to our day. Rulers, despots, and tyrants have always feared Christianity. Many of them tried to wipe out Christianity from their kingdoms, only to have it grow stronger. That is correct. The more blood that has been shed, the stronger and more vibrant the church has become. In taking Church history in the seminary, I walked away with one theme that covers the Church’s 2,000 years: in periods of great persecution, the faith was strongest and most vibrant. The converse of that has also proven true: the more accepted the Church has been, the less passionate its people."

[ … ]

"While I am pretty sure most of the people reading this column will not face religious persecution that will lead to martyrdom, the modern American Christian must ask himself the question: Do I live my faith completely? Does it come before all else? Do I make decisions on daily living in accord with the teachings of Jesus, regardless of what others will say or think?"

"While I am not proposing or asking for religious persecution, I wonder if its lack has dulled the passion of living in faith. One has greater devotion and love for those causes for which the person needs to take an unpopular stand and possibly face adversity. The modern Church, at least in America, needs to recapture the spirit of the early Church and not take its faith for granted. Frankly, it’s easy for us Americans—maybe too easy. I wonder what I would do if I were Agnes in the early Church—would I have kept my promise in the face of martyrdom? Would I have that courage?" [St. Agnes, pray we remain faithful, even amid persecution.]

Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong, mercifully grant, that we, who celebrate the heavenly birthday of your Martyr Saint Agnes, may, by her holy intercession before you, follow her brave constancy in the faith. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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