Saint of the day 20150121

21 January

SAINT AGNES
Virgin and Martyr
(+ 304)

St. Agnes was but twelve years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving cross. She did not shrink when she was bound hand and foot, though the gyves slipped from her young hands, and the heathens who stood around were moved to tears. The bonds were not needed for her, and she hastened gladly to the place of her torture.

Next, when the judge saw that pain had no terrors for her, he inflicted an insult worse than death: her clothes were stripped off, and she had to stand in the street before a pagan crowd; yet even this did not daunt her. “Christ,” she said, “will guard His own.” So it was. Christ showed, by a miracle, the value which He sets upon the custody of the eyes. Whilst the crowd turned away their eyes from the spouse of Christ, as she stood exposed to view in the street, there was one young man who dared to gaze at the innocent child with immodest eyes. A flash of light struck him blind, and his companions bore him away half dead with pain and terror.

Lastly, her fidelity to Christ was proved by flattery and offers of marriage. But she answered, “Christ is my Spouse: He chose me first, and His I will be.” At length the sentence of death was passed. For a moment she stood erect in prayer, and then bowed her neck to the sword. At one stroke her head was severed from her body, and the angels bore her pure soul to Paradise.

Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. [1894]

St Agnes (- 304)
As with so many of the early Roman martyrs, very little is now known about Agnes’ life. Partly this is because the details have been obscured by the light that shines from her martyrdom and the cult that it inspired, and partly because if you are martyred at the age of 12, your life has not really acquired that many details in any case. Agnes was filled with the love of God from an early age, vowed herself to celibacy, and when the opportunity of martyrdom arose, she did not hide away but stepped forward and took it.
That is really all that is known: but it is enough. We who are used to compromising with the world at every turn, and would find excuses to avoid any inconveniences that our faith might cause us, let alone martyrdom (“yes, of course I would die for my faith in principle, but wouldn’t I be able to do more good in the long run if I stayed alive just now?”), should admire the simple wisdom of Agnes, realise that there are moments where compromise and moral ambiguity just will not do, and pray for the strength to live up to such moments when they happen. See the article in Wikipedia.
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