St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr, Pray for Us!
Here is the account of the glorious martyrdom of St. Agnes, taken from Butler’s Lives of the Saints, in honor of her feast day, January 21. In St. Agnes we see the true Christian abhorrence of impurity.
A great danger facing Catholics young and old is a lack of focus on the virtues that are absolutely necessary for salvation. We must strive for the “higher ground” in our thoughts and deeds, and nowhere more so than in purity. The young suffer from lack of catechesis, or worse, false catechesis. Adults may suffer from a lack of knowledge, or from desensitization due to immersion in the world.
St. Agnes provides a glorious example of setting one’s heart on the love of God alone. Even though we are not all called to the chastity of religious life, we can strive to imitate St. Agnes in her ardent love of God and her uncompromising zeal for purity. Undoubtedly, this would bring an end to abortion and all the associated sins against life, marriage and chastity.
The Romans sought to defile St. Agnes. Tertullian reproached their evil designs in these words “By condemning the Christian maid to the lewd youth rather than to the lion, you have acknowledged that a stain against purity is more dreaded by us than any torments or death. Yet your crafty cruelty avails you not; it rather serves to gain men over to our holy religion.” St. Agnes’ confidence in the Lord Jesus is an example for youth today, to strengthen them in attacks on their chastity, especially the horrendous classroom sex-education programs run by the American bishops (see Mothers’ Watch for more information).
St. Agnes suffered not long after the beginning of the persecution of Diocletian, whose bloody edicts appeared in March in the year of our Lord 303. We learn from St. Ambrose and St. Augustine that she was only thirteen years of age at the time of her glorious death. Her riches and beauty excited the young noblemen of the first families in Rome, to vie with one another in their addresses, who should gain her in marriage. Agnes answered them all, that she had consecrated her virginity to a heavenly spouse, who could not be beheld by mortal eyes. Her suitors finding her resolution impregnable to all their arts and importunities, accused her to the governor as a Christian; not doubting but threats and torments would overcome her tender mind, on which allurements could make no impression. The judge at first employed the mildest expressions and most inviting promises; to which Agnes paid no regard, repeating always that she could have no other spouse than Jesus Christ. He then made use of threats, but found her soul endowed with a masculine courage, and even desirous of racks and death. At last, terrible fires were made, and iron hooks, racks, and other instruments of torture displayed before her, with threats of immediate execution. The young virgin surveyed them all with an undaunted eye; and with a cheerful countenance beheld the fierce and cruel executioners surrounding her, and ready to dispatch her at the word of command.
The governor seeing his measures ineffectual, said he would send her to a house of prostitution where what she prized so highly should be exposed to the insults of the debauchees. Agnes answered that Jesus Christ was too jealous of the purity of his spouses to suffer it to be violated in such a manner; for He was their defender and protector. “You may,” said she, “stain your sword with my blood, but will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.” The governor was so incensed at this that he ordered her to be immediately led to the public brothel, with liberty to all persons to abuse her person at pleasure. Many young profligates ran thither, full of the wicked desire of gratifying their lust; but were seized with such awe at the sight of the saint that they dared not approach her; one only excepted, who, attempting to be rude to her was that very instant, by a flash, as it were, of lightening from Heaven, struck blind, and fell trembling to the ground. His companions terrified, took him up, and carried him to Agnes, who was at a distance, singing hymns of praise to Christ, her protector. The virgin by prayer restored him to his sight and health.
The chief prosecutor of the saint, who at first sought to gratify his lust and avarice, now labored to satiate his revenge by incensing the judge against her. The governor wanted not others to spur him on; for he was highly exasperated to see himself baffled and set at defiance by one of her tender age and sex. Therefore, resolved upon her death, he condemned her to be beheaded. Agnes, transported with joy on hearing this sentence, and still more at the sight of the executioner, “went to the place of execution more cheerfully,” says St. Ambrose, “than others go to their wedding.” The executioner had secret instructions to use all means to induce her to a compliance: but Agnes always answered she could never offer so great an injury to her heavenly spouse; and having made a short prayer, bowed down her neck to adore God, and received the stroke of death. The spectators wept to see so beautiful and tender a virgin loaded with fetters, and to behold her fearless under the very sword of the executioner, who with a trembling hand cut off her head at one stroke.
O Almighty and everlasting God, who choosest the weak things of the world to confound the strong: mercifully grant that we who keep the solemn feast of blessed Agnes, Thy Virgin and Martyr, may experience the benefit of her pleading with Thee.
Collect from the Mass of St. Agnes, Jan. 21