Today is the Feast Day of St. Agnes, a fourth-century martyr who is one of the most beloved of all female saints, because of her heroic commitment to purity. It is within the Church on January 21st, the day of Agnes’ execution, that two lambs are presented to the Pope, who blesses the lambs. The lambs suggest the name of Saint Agnes, a play on the word “agnus”, which in Latin means lamb-life. But more than this, the lambs represent the sacrifice of Saint Agnes, who offered her life as a sacrifice to Christ the Lord.
The wool from these lambs prepared on Holy Thursday and used to weave the palliums that the Pope bestows on archbishops. The pallium is a circlet of woolen cloth decorated with crosses that is worn by an archbishop as a sign of the dignity of his office, an office he exercises in communion with the Pope.
We must all be willing to give up our lives in service to Christ the Lord. We may not be asked to accept as our mission torture and death like Saint Agnes but we will be asked to make a sacrifice.
What that specific sacrifice will be will be specific to our vocation and differs from person to person, but whatever our sacrifice will be it will be an act of love, a manifestation of fidelity to Christ, and a witness of our hope that Christ the Lord offers us more than anything than the world can give.
Saint Thomas said, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16b).
Poor Thomas! He made one remark and has been branded as “Doubting Thomas” ever since. But if he doubted, he also believed. He made what is certainly the most explicit statement of faith in the New Testament: “My Lord and My God!” (see John 20:24-28) and, in so expressing his faith, gave Christians a prayer that will be said till the end of time. He also occasioned a compliment from Jesus to all later Christians: “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed” (John 20:29).
Thomas should be known for his courage. Perhaps what he said was impetuous—since he ran, like the rest, at the showdown—but he can scarcely have been insincere when he expressed his willingness to die with Jesus. The occasion was when Jesus proposed to go to Bethany after Lazarus had died. Since Bethany was near Jerusalem, this meant walking into the very midst of his enemies and to almost certain death. Realizing this, Thomas said to the other apostles, “Let us also go to die with him” (John 11:16b).
Thomas shares the lot of Peter the impetuous, James and John, the “sons of thunder,” Philip and his foolish request to see the Father—indeed all the apostles in their weakness and lack of understanding. We must not exaggerate these facts, however, for Christ did not pick worthless men. But their human weakness again points up the fact that holiness is a gift of God, not a human creation; it is given to ordinary men and women with weaknesses; it is God who gradually transforms the weaknesses into the image of Christ, the courageous, trusting and loving one.
Authentic true power is service. Look at Saint Joseph.
“He was chosen by the eternal Father as the trustworthy guardian and protector of his greatest treasures, namely, his divine Son and Mary, Joseph’s wife. He carried out this vocation with complete fidelity until at last God called him, saying: ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord’”
-St. Bernardine of Siena
132-year-old tradition—the Blessing of the Lambs and Saint Agnes
Every year on her feast day (January 21), lambs–a sign of Saint Agnes’s purity–are blessed at the basilica, and their wool is then used to create palliums, the distinctive garments given by the Pope to archbishops to show their unity with the Holy Father.
Perhaps because of her famous (or infamous) flouting of ecclesiastical authority, Hildegard of Bingen was not canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as a saint, though she was honored locally as a saint. The Church of England considered her a saint. On May 10, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI officially declared her a saint of the Roman Catholic Church, and has announced that in October 2012, he will name her as a Doctor of the Church (meaning her teachings are recommended doctrine). She will be the fourth woman to be so honored, after Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena and Térèse of Lisieux.
Like many Marian feasts, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary celebrates the protection of Christians through the intercession of the Mother of God.
Salve Regina by Choeur des moines de saint benoit-du-lac
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Pray for us O holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Almighty, everlasting God, who by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin-Mother Mary to become a dwelling-place meet for thy Son: grant that as we rejoice in her commemoration; so by her fervent intercession we may be delivered from present evils and from everlasting death. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.