Today is the feast of St. Agnes, one of the most famous virgin-martyr saints of the early Church. She is mentioned in the Roman Canon (i.e., Eucharistic Prayer I), and I consider to be one of my patron saints.
She is certainly emblematic of the vocation of consecrated virginity lived outside of a religious institute. The memorable antiphon from the Rite of Consecration, "I am espoused to Him whom angels serve..." was taken directly from today's Morning Prayer.
As far as I'm aware, most of what we know about her is legend--which I don't really mind, as we venerate her more for who she was rather than for the things she did. According to the Breviary, she died somewhere between the years 250-350 A.D.
St. Ambrose mentions in today's Office of Readings, she was said to be only twelve years old when she was martyred. It's hard for us to hear about someone so young suffering so terribly.
Yet St. Ambrose's homily does not focus on the cruelty of the situation, but rather on the marvel of grace that made this child so strong and pure-intentioned.
St. Agnes is an especially meaningful saint for me because my greatest obstacle in become a consecrated virgin in overcoming the numerous objections to my youth. Many well-meaning people have been of the opinion that I am both too young to make this choice and too young to live this life successfully.
I would be the first to argue that aspiring consecrated virgins should have maintained a certain degree of personal maturity. However, I also think it is important to remember that God can (and does!) call young people, even to heroic virtue and dedication. St. Agnes is a case in point!
Here is St. Agnes' prayer from the Liturgy:
Almighty, eternal God,
you choose what the world considers weak
to put worldly power to shame.
May we who celebrate the birth of St. Agnes into eternal joy
be loyal to the faith she professed.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.