St Agnes is one of these saints whom we know very little about, but have a fair amount of tradition surrounding the veneration of her life. She lived about the third century. It seems that at twelve years of age she rejected the proposals of several young men. Agnes had determined to dedicate herself to God, and to virginity. She was sent to a house of prostitution, where she was eventually martyred.
St. Ambrose writes about her in his Treatise of Virginity: "The cruelty that did not spare her youth shows all the more clearly the power of faith in finding one so young to bear it witness." The opening prayer from Mass today will remind us that "God chooses what the world considers weak to put worldly power to shame." St. Ambrose that witnesses of her life are amazed that one who is barely of legal age can make such a profound testimonial to God.
Virginity and chastity seem to be very antiquated virtues by today's standards. In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II would often reflect on the sacredness of our bodies, and how our bodies, how we use them, are intricately connected to our identity and values. Society seems to look at our bodies in the context of a consumer good to be manipulated, controlled and directed. Sexuality becomes less about a relationship and more about a function with various feelings and sensations. It becomes all very mechanical.
Agnes teaches us something about a saintly lifestyle. Early on we begin to make choices about what is valuable, true, and good. Hopefully we have a firm foundation and good resources to help us make these good choices. I remember my freshmen would come out with these broad statements on how they believed life should be. More often than not they did not have any basis in their convictions, but followed what those around them believed.
In recent years I have come to see how much charity and chastity are drawn together. They are virtues which strive for the deepest experience of Christ's love. We pray today that Agnes keep us pure in all of our convictions, and draw us into truth.