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Purity of St. Agnes

Fr. Scott A. Haynes


When she was about 13, the beautiful girl, St. Agnes of Rome, became the object of a rich young man's devotions. The father of this young man was the prefect of Rome. And as he wanted to arrange a marriage his father offered her family riches if she would make a match with their son, but Agnes had already decided to consecrate herself to Jesus.


They threatened to expose her as a Christian. But she did not cower under this threat. So, they exposed her and ordered her to either offer incense to the pagan gods or be thrown into a brothel. She refused to be taken to the Temple of Minerva, so she was stripped naked and thrown into the house of ill repute.


Every man who approached her was stricken by her guardian angel. When the prefect's son saw this, he mocked these men, pushed his way through the crowd, but on seeing Agnes, he was struck blind. Her guardian angel protected her modesty.


According to tradition, the prefect heard what happened to his son and ran to the brothel, accusing Agnes of witchcraft. After various attempts to kill her, she was eventually decapitated by sword and buried in a tomb on the Via Nomentána.


Eight days after her martyrdom her parents and friends came in the night to pray at her tomb. All of a sudden, they saw a great multitude of virgins clad in vestments of gold and silver. A great light shone before them. On the right was a lamb whiter than snow. And then they saw St. Agnes standing with the virgins. Then this little martyr said to them:

Grieve me no longer. I am not dead. Be joyful with me, for with all these virgins Jesus Christ hath given me the brightest habitation and dwelling, and I am with him joined in heaven whom in earth I loved with all my thought.

St. Agnes climbed the ladder of purity in her ascent to heaven. In heart and soul, in mind and body, she was utterly dedicated to Christ. In the artistic tradition of the Church, the lamb, as a symbol of purity, is one of the symbols of St. Agnes. In Rome on this day, the Holy Father traditionally blesses two lambs at the Church of St. Agnes. The lambs are brought in baskets of red and white to recall martyrdom and purity.


Near the Feast of St. Agnes each year, Catholics in the U.S.A. observe a day of prayer and penance for the crimes against the unborn. Acceptance of abortion has brought so much violence upon our nation. When our country accepted legalized abortion, we accepted the culture of death and all that goes with it. Our nation has embraced not only abortion, but also everything that wars against the good of the human person.


As we pray for all those who have been victimized by the culture of death, let us pray that St. Agnes will obtain for all of the purity and strength of soul that she knew. She had pure intention – she would offer not false worship to the gods of Rome. She had a pure body – she would not consent to lust. She had purity of soul because she gave her heart totally to her spouse, Jesus Christ.


St. Agnes, pray for us.

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