Today, the universal Church celebrates the memorial of Saint Agnes, a young Virgin Martyr, who perished by the sword under the reign of Diocletian in 304. Her name, which sounds like the Latin noun for ‘lamb’ (agnus) is derived from the Greek, agnes, ‘chaste, pure, sacred’.
She was highly venerated, attested to by the fact that she has her own antiphons in the Office. Contemporary accounts, preserved by Saint Ambrose, attest that the executioner was more afraid to kill her than she was to die:
What menaces there were from the executioner, to frighten her; what promises made, to win her over; what influential people desired her in marriage! She answered: “To hope that any other will please me does wrong to my Spouse. I will be his who first chose me for himself. Executioner, why do you delay? If eyes that I do not want can desire this body, then let it perish.” She stood still, she prayed, she offered her neck.
You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned; his right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl’s peril, while she had no fear for herself. One victim, but a twin martyrdom, to modesty and to religion; Agnes preserved her virginity, and gained a martyr’s crown.
A virgin and martyr, a double crown. As her responsorium goes on to sing:
In iuventute sua mortem perdidit et vitam invenit.
Which, literally translated: In her youth, she destroyed death and found life.
It is only by facing death square on that we will find life. Running from death, we find only death. He who loses his life, he shall find it.
I find it curious that her feast falls just after the much-vaunted Women’s March in Washington, to stand up for women’s rights, and we can all guess what that means. It was a bit of a damp squib, with a fraction of a fraction of the numbers hyped and expected, and of the numbers who will be marching for life this Friday. I would not guess that many of the misguided marchers of the fairer sex have even heard of Saint Agnes, much less would be inclined to follow her example in dying at the very dawn of their lives for the truth, for the Auctorem vitae, the Author of life, and finding true life in the eternal bliss of heaven.
But perhaps I am wrong. They, and we, are all searching for ‘truth’ somehow, someway, for we all by nature desire the true and the good; it’s just that so many of us seek these in all the wrong places and by all the wrong means. Who knows? There may even have been a female pro-life contingent in the March – after all, they stand for women as well, and much more than the pro-aborts – so a small drop of hope in a sea of confusion. The truth will all be revealed someday, and we may hope sooner than later.
Sancta Agnes, ora pro nobis!