Saint of the Day: St. Agnes of Rome – January 21
St. Agnes (291-304) was a twelve year old Roman girl who was killed on January 21, 304 because she refused to marry the son of the Prefect Sempronius. Agnes was killed because she was a Christian virgin and wished to remain so. She is an early heroine of the church at Rome and is mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer – the Great Thanksgiving – of the Mass.
There is very little we know about her except that she was a real historical person. Her faith and her strength at such a young age were seen as remarkable by Christian and non-Christian alike. In and of itself, it was considered a miracle. Agnes’s defiance of authority was not only rare, it was also foolhardy, particularly for a woman, let alone a girl, in her time and culture. In a culture which was licentious and in which the slaves and less powerful had no control of their own futures, let alone of their own bodies, Christianity would set a new standard which we take for granted today in a post-Christian world.
St. Agnes was martyred in the last great wave of persecution under the Emperor Diocletian. Within 20 years of her death, Christianity would become legalized in the Empire and the love of Christ for which she died would spread beyond her time and place throughout history. Human rights: dignity, autonomy, opportunity – the right to be whole, free, in love, caught up in the divine – were announced by the faith of a young girl of faith a long time ago.