On Wednesday, January 21, we celebrated the feast day of St. Agnes of Rome, the namesake of our St. Agnes Guild, so I spent some time reading about this early martyr. St. Agnes was just a child of 12 or 13 when she was executed for refusing to denounce her faith in Christ by declaring her faith in Caesar as Lord.
There are some great stories about Agnes, but most of them are pure fantasy. There was a period of time in the 15th and 16th centuries when the stories of the martyrs was the most popular genre of literature. The story of Agnes’ martyrdom became a sort of Romeo and Juliet story with Jesus as Romeo and a series of very strange and romantic miracles. The part of Agnes’ story that most intrigues me is simply this: What kind of faith allows a young woman, a child really, to stand before the judge and then the executioner and choose to proclaim her faith, hold to her faith in Christ, even when it cost her life?
St. Paul tells us clearly that Jesus, and his resurrection, free us from the fear of death. Jesus invites us to live a life that is a participation in the eternal love and spirit of God. That participation is so beautiful, and so fulfilling, that even the threat of physical death is not enough to turn us away. That is what inspires me about St. Agnes. She knew the love of Christ and was free from the fear of death.
Freedom from the fear of death gives us much more than the ability to face an executioner with grace. Freedom from fear allows us to live more fully, allows us to see and appreciate the divine all around us, and allows us to be mindfully present and appreciative of each moment of our lives. That is the lesson of the martyrs. That is the witness they give.
Yours in Christ,