Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve….Dragged against her will to the altars, she stretches out her hands to the Lord in the midst of flames, making the triumphant sign of Christ the victor on the altar of sacrilege….Too young to be punished, yet old enough for a martyr’s crown; unfitted for the contest, yet effortless in victory, she shows herself a master of valor despite the handicap of youth. As a bride she would not be hastening to join her husband with the same joy she shows as a virgin on her way to punishment, crowned not with flowers but with holiness of life, adorned not with braided hair but with Christ himself.—St. Ambrose, On Virgins
It may be that sometimes we don’t sufficiently consider the lives of the saints and martyrs on their feast days or memorials. For those who are able to attend Mass daily there may be a better understanding where there is a priest for whom such things bear great importance. I must admit that sometimes, due to the busyness of the day or something else, I have failed to give the kind of attention to the lives of the saints that would truly inform my worship. However, sometimes there is a saint who seems to call out and catch my attention.
Years ago I had a long visit with a wise elderly priest after coming to terms with an especially trying personal challenge. The priest told me that there had always been a saint praying for me, whom I may not have realized or known about—he said it was a special saint whose prayers were just for me. I believe this now more than ever.
I can’t really say that Agnes, this young girl who lived in the third or fourth century, has been my special saint. However, I do know that she stands out to me today. Perhaps it is her youth and the fact that I have a little boy who is only a year younger than Agnes was when she offered her life in the truest imitation of Christ. Perhaps it is my consideration of my own daughter, who is just couple years older than St. Agnes was, who speaks to me. Regardless, I want to stop for a moment and consider St. Agnes, whom St. Ambrose tells us “succeeds in convincing others of her testimony about God.”
Today I call out her name. I say "St. Agnes, little friend, not unlike some of my students whom I fondly remember from years past, not unlike my own children, pray for me. Help me to have your courage and commitment to Christ. Help me to become like you, who depended on God and placed yourself entirely in the hands of Christ our savior. Let me be like you…to hide myself in Christ Jesus…to place myself entirely in his great sacrifice… but also to face the here and now with courage. Not being called to suffer the martyr’s death necessarily, but being called to give my all, my everything, for him who loved me greatest and saved me from eternal death."