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January 21

FOCUS:    The Lord sends us forth to proclaim the Good News of salvation through our words and deeds.

Reflection

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In her liturgy this day, the Church honors the young martyr, St. Agnes, who died at the beginning of the fourth century A.D.

 

According to legend, Agnes was born to a rich and noble family of Rome.  Though her beauty attracted the interests of many prospective suitors, she rebuffed them all, insisting that she had consecrated herself to her true spouse, Jesus Christ.  Her suitors denounced her as a Christian, and she was brought before a magistrate.  He employed in turn various forms of persuasion, ranging from mild entreaty to the display of instruments of torture.  None of these efforts could induce Agnes to offer incense in sacrifice to the pagan gods.  When she remained adamant, she was consigned to a local brothel.  Yet even there she exuded such an aura of purity that no man could touch her.  At this point, the frustrated judge ordered Agnes to be beheaded.  Agnes greeted the sentence joyfully, and, according to St. Ambrose, writing later on in the 4th century, “went to the place of her execution more cheerfully than others go to their wedding.”

 

At the time of her death, Agnes was 13 years old.

 

The stories of such “virgin martyrs” have often been used in Christian history to exalt the virginal state.  The story of St. Agnes does not so much depict a vindication of sexual purity as it does the struggle of a young woman, empowered by Christ to claim her own identity against the efforts of those who would define her by gender and sexuality.  The God Agnes worshiped set an altogether different value on her body and her human worth.

 

“Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue.  I belong to Him whom the angels serve.” – St. Agnes