St Agnes

O Lord, I trust in you;
into your hands I commend my spirit.

.     .     .

Not much is known about St Agnes. The introduction that universalis provides suggests that in part this may be beacuse she was only 12 when she was martyred, which seems like a reasonable explanation. That we do not know very much is not important, the writer says; it’s what we do know that matters: that she was willing to die for her faith. And so we should be inspired to take the difficult course, precisely when it is most difficult to do so.

Right.

The thing is, that’s not exactly what Agnes, or any of the early Christian martyrs saw themselves doing. I think about St Stephen, who exclaimed that he saw Jesus. Or Perpetua, who likewise looked beyond the beasts and the sword, to the One she desired to behold in his glory. It seems to me that it isn’t about gritting your teeth and bearing it: Perpetua’s story in particular relates her obliviousness to the pain of the attack she suffered. Rather, she experienced even the blows of the beast as a ‘momentary light affliction’ that did not distract her from the ‘eternal…glory’ she so ardently desired.

It isn’t about us. It is never about us. It is always about him, about Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. We fix our eyes on him, in whose strength we are supported. Perhaps that is why the first reading for today, from Hebrews 5, reminds us that ‘no one takes this honour on himself, but each one is called by God’ and that Christ himself was (somehow, mysteriously) made perfect in suffering. It is not our own suffering, but a participation in Christ’s suffering, that transforms the suffering itself into the delight of St Stephen, St Agnes, and St Perpetua, as they beheld the Lord in glory.

St Agnes, pray for us.

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