I love saint stories and am often shocked by how young some of these saints are. Today is the feast of St. Agnes of Rome--we hear her name in the canon of the Mass. She was known for her beauty and piety; she had consecrated herself to Christ at a young age. When she was 12 or 13, she was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods but she refused. She was dragged naked to a brothel so that she could be defiled and her hair grew to cover her body. Several men offered to marry her, but she remained steadfast to her vow. And so she was beheaded. A virgin-martyr.
Jose de Ribera, 1591-1652 AD
Christ made my soul beautiful with the jewels of grace and virtue. I belong to Him whom the angels serve. St. Agnes ~300 A.D.
Here's what St. Ambrose of Milan had to say about her nearly a hundred years later in an essay On Virgins: Today is the birthday of a virgin; let us imitate her purity. It is the birthday of a martyr; let us offer ourselves in sacrifice. It is the birthday of Saint Agnes, who is said to have suffered martyrdom at the age of twelve. There was little or no room in that small body for a wound. Yet she shows no fear of the blood-stained hands of her executioners. She offers her whole body to be put to the sword by fierce soldiers. She is too young to know of death, yet is ready to face it. Dragged against her will to the altars, she stretches out her hands to the Lord in the midst of the flames, making the triumphant sign of Christ the victor on the altars of sacrilege. She puts her neck and hands in iron chains, but no chain can hold fast her tiny limbs. In the midst of tears, she sheds no tears herself. She stood still, she prayed, she offered her neck. You could see fear in the eyes of the executioner, as if he were the one condemned. His right hand trembled, his face grew pale as he saw the girl's peril, while she had no fear for herself. One victim, but a twin martyrdom, to modesty and religion; Agnes preserved her virginity and gained a martyr's crown.
I'm reading a beautiful book "...AND YOU ARE CHRIST'S" the Charism of Virginity and the Celibate Life by Fr. Dubay. It allows me, even as a married person, to contemplate love in its highest form. "The Christian virgin is to be a lover before anything else. This is why one does what he does. Only one who is in love gives up everything for the beloved."
And still I can't help but grin thinking about the story about the old monk who disappeared, so the new one goes looking for him in the scriptorium, and finds the old man sobbing: we made a mistake; the word was celebrate.