Monday, January 21, 2013

Feast of St. Agnes, 2013

In honor of the feast of St. Agnes, here is a section from a speech the Holy Father gave to the seminarians of Rome last year. Especially in this Year of Faith, I like how the Pope connects St. Agnes’ double vocation to virginity and martyrdom with the proclamation of the Gospel.


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.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

“On the Third Day, There Was a Wedding…”

For the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, here is one of my favorite passages in the Office of Readings. (Emphases, in bold, are mine)


Office of Readings, second reading, Saturday before the Baptism of the Lord

The marriage of Christ and the Church - A sermon by Faustus of Riez

On the third day there was a wedding. What wedding can this be but the joyful marriage of man’s salvation, a marriage celebrated by confessing the Trinity or by faith in the resurrection? That is why the marriage took place “on the third day,” a reference to the sacred mysteries which this number symbolizes.

Hence, too, we read elsewhere in the Gospel that the return of the younger son, that is, the conversion of the pagans, is marked by song, and music and wedding garments.

Like a bridegroom coming from his marriage chamber our God descended to earth in his Incarnation, in order to be united to his Church which was to be formed of the pagan nations. To her he gave a pledge and a dowry: a pledge when God was united to man; a dowry when he was sacrificed for man’s salvation. The pledge is our present redemption; the dowry, eternal life.

To those who see only with the outward eye, all these events at Cana are strange and wonderful; to those who understand, they are also signs. For, if we look closely, the very water tells us of our rebirth in baptism. One thing is turned into another from within, and in a hidden way a lesser creature is changed into a greater. All this points to the hidden reality of our second birth. There water was suddenly changed; later it will cause a change in man.

By Christ’s action in Galilee, then, wine is made, that is, the law withdraws and grace takes its place; the shadows fade and truth becomes present; fleshly realities are coupled with spiritual, and the old covenant with its outward discipline is transformed into the new. For, as the Apostle says: The old order has passed away; now all is new! The water in the jars is not less than it was before, but now begins to be what it had not been; so too the law is not destroyed by Christ’s coming, but is made better than it was.

When the wine fails, new wine is served: the wine of the old covenant was good but the wine of the new is better. The old covenant, which Jews follow, is exhausted by its letter; the new covenant, which belongs to us, has the savor of life and is filled with grace.

The good wine, that is, good precepts, refers to the law; thus we read: You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy. But the Gospel is a better and a stronger wine: My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.