St. Agnes is one of the famous Roman maidens, who illustrated the genuine beauty of faith in Christ and friendship with Him. Her dual status as Virgin and Martyr reflect the fullness of holiness’ dimensions. This is a fullness of holiness that is requested also of you by your Christian faith and the special priestly vocation with which the Lord has called you and binds you to Him.
Martyrdom, for St Agnes, meant the generous and free acceptance of giving her own young life, in its entirety and without reservation, that the Gospel might be preached as truth and beauty that illuminate life. In the martyrdom of Agnes, received courageously in the stadium of Domitian, there shines forever the beauty of belonging to Christ without hesitation, relying on Him. Even today, for anyone who steps into Piazza Navona, the effigy of the saint from atop the gable of the church of St. Agnes in Agony, reminds him that our city is based also on the friendship with Christ and witness to his Gospel, of many of its sons and daughters. Their generous surrender to Him and to the good of their brothers is a primary component of the spiritual physiognomy of Rome.
In martyrdom, Agnes also seals the other crucial element of her life, virginity for Christ and for the Church. The total gift of martyrdom is prepared, in fact, by the conscious, free and mature choice of virginity, a witness to the will to belong totally to Christ. If martyrdom is a final heroic act, virginity is the result of a long friendship with Jesus that has matured in the constant hearing of His Word, in the dialogue of prayer, in the Eucharistic encounter. Agnes, still young, learned that being a disciple of the Lord means loving Him by putting all her life at His disposal. This dual qualification—Virgin and Martyr—calls to mind in our reflection that a credible witness of the faith must be a person who lives for Christ, with Christ and in Christ, transforming their lives according to the higher needs of Grace.
Bonus: a video of the Pope blessing the traditional St. Anges Day lambs this year!
…Because who doesn’t love seeing the Holy Father bless and pet the adorable, flower-decked baby lambs!
Yes, the video is all in Italian (welcome to my world!), but it’s still fun to watch even if you can’t quite catch everything that’s said.
Traditionally, the Pope blesses two lambs at the basilica of St. Agnes Outside the Walls. Later, these lambs will be shorn, and their wool will be used to make the pallia that new metropolitan archbishops receive from the Holy Father on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.
I personally love this custom because I think it’s symbolic of the way consecrated virgins are called to support spiritually the ministry of bishops, through our life of prayer and total dedication to Christ.