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The Feast of St. Agnes
January 21st Readings Reflection: Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr
Jesus came with his disciples into the house.
Again the crowd gathered,
making it impossible for them even to eat.
When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him,
for they said, "He is out of his mind."
On this day in the year 304 AD, a young girl — only 12 or 13 years old — gave her life as a martyr for Christ. Saint Agnes of Rome was a very beautiful girl, and many men sought to marry her. However, Agnes was a Christian and had promised Our Lord that she would remain a virgin, united to Christ in a mystical marriage not unlike that of nuns and monks today. It was very dangerous to be a Christian in Rome during that time, where persecution against Christianity was widespread. According to legends, the many men whom Agnes refused to marry reported her to the authorities for being a Christian.
Since Agnes lived so long ago, there are several different legends surrounding the details of her death. In one legend, the Governor’s son tried to marry Agnes; when she refused him, he reported her to his father, who imprisoned the girl. He then sent her to a brothel, but an angel from God protected the virgin. Finally, the Governor ordered her to be beheaded.
In another legend, the Prefect Sempronius ordered Agnes to be dragged naked through the streets in an attempt to defile her purity. However, God made Agnes’ hair immediately grow to cover her body; it is because of this that St. Agnes is usually depicted with long hair in sacred art. When men tried to rape her before she was beheaded, they were struck blind. Because of St. Agnes’ heroic purity, she is the patron saint of chastity.
Today’s short Gospel reading is very relevant for the feast of St. Agnes. While many believed in Jesus and crowded around to hear His words and receive healing from Him, many others wanted to “seize [H]im,” believing that He was “out of [H]is mind.” Even today, there are many who think that Christianity is unreasonable. However, as the late Pope Benedict XVI once said in an audience:
The Catholic Tradition, from the outset, rejected the so-called ‘fideism,’ which is the desire to believe against reason. Credo quia absurdum (‘I believe because it is absurd’) is not a formula that interprets the Catholic faith. Indeed, God is not absurd; if anything He is a mystery. The mystery, in its turn, is not irrational but is a superabundance of sense, of meaning, of truth. (General Audience, 21 November 2012)
May the witness of St. Agnes’ life and death serve to inspire us in our Faith and reaffirm our belief in God and His Church.
St. Agnes, ora pro nobis!