Saint Agnes

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Saint Agnes

Virgin and Martyr
(† 304)

Saint Agnes was twelve years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving cross. She did not shrink when she was bound hand and foot, though the manacles slipped from her young hands, and the heathens who stood around were moved to tears. Bonds were not needed for her; she hastened gladly to the place of her torture.

When the judge saw that pain had no terrors for her, he inflicted a sentence comporting an insult worse than death: she was condemned to be taken to a house of infamy and her clothes stripped off. I have an Angel with me, she said, and he will guard me. Christ, whom you do not know, surrounds me like a wall which cannot be forced. And so it occurred. The Spouse of Virgins revealed, by a miracle, His custody of the pure in heart: her hair grew miraculously to such a length that she was entirely covered by it. The place to which she was taken was illuminated by a brilliant, inexplicable light; and there she knelt down to pray. At that site a Church has been built in honor of this young maiden’s victory over impurity. Only an impudent suitor, the cause of her arraignment as a Christian, dared approach her, and her Angel struck him dead at her feet. His father prayed Agnes to raise him up again by her magic arts; she answered that magic was not responsible for his death, but only the young pagan’s lack of respect for God. She said she would pray to Him that her Lord’s glory might be manifested by the miracle his father requested, and it was granted to her prayer.

At length the sentence of death by the sword was passed upon her by a subordinate judge. For a moment she stood erect in prayer, then bowed her neck to the sword, rejoicing that the time of her liberation had arrived. The Angels bore her pure soul to Paradise. A week after her death, Saint Agnes appeared to her parents as they were praying at her tomb; she was amid a choir of virgins clothed in golden robes and crowned with garlands. She begged them not to weep for her as for one dead, telling them rather to rejoice with her in her happiness.

Reflection. Her innocence endeared Saint Agnes to Christ, as it has endeared her to His Church ever since. Even as penitents we may imitate her innocence in our own sphere. Let us strictly guard our eyes, and Christ, when He sees that we desire to keep our hearts pure for love of Him, will fortify our resolution and bless it.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894); Les Petits Bollandistes: Vies des Saints, by Msgr. Paul Guérin (Bloud et Barral: Paris, 1882), Vol. 1

Saint Fabian

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Saint Fabian

St. Fabian, like St. Clement and St. Antheros, two of his predecessors, was extremely zealous in seeing that the Acts of the Martyrs were carefully drawn up. This zeal was no doubt exercised by the clergy in the case of our holy Pontiff himself, and his sufferings and martyrdom were carefully registered; but all these interesting particulars have been lost, in common with an immense number of other precious Acts, which were condemned to the flames, by the Imperial Edicts, during the persecution under Dioclesian. Nothing is now known of the life of St. Fabian, save a few of his actions as Pope; but we may have some idea of his virtues, by the praise given him by St. Cyprian, who, in a letter written to St. Cornelius, the immediate successor of St. Fabian, calls him an incomparable man. The Bishop of Carthage extols the purity and holiness of life of the holy Pontiff, who so peaceably governed the Church amidst all the storms which then assailed her. There is an interesting circumstance related of him by Eusebius. After the death of St. Antheros, the people and clergy of Rome assembled together, for the election of the new Pontiff. Heaven marked out the successor of St. Peter: a dove was seen to rest on the venerable head of Fabian, and he was unanimously chosen. This reminds us of the event in our Lord’s Life, which we celebrated a few days back, when standing in the river Jordan, the Dove came down from heaven, and showed him to the people as the Son of God. Fabian was the depository of the power of regeneration, which Jesus, by his Baptism, gave to the element of water; he zealously propagated the Faith of his Divine Master, and, among the Bishops he consecrated for divers places, one or more were sent by him into these western parts of Europe.

We give, at once, the short account of the Acts of St. Fabian, as recorded in the Liturgy.

Fabian, a Roman by birth, governed the Church from the reign of Maximin to that of Decins. He divided the City into seven parts, which he consigned to as many Deacons, and to them he gave the charge of looking after the poor. He created also a like number of Subdeacons, who were to collect the Acts of the Martyrs, written by seven Notaries. It was he decreed, that, every year, on the fifth Feria, our Lord’s Supper, the Chrism should be renewed, and the old should be burnt. At length, on the thirteenth of the Calends of February (January 20), he was crowned with martyrdom, in the persecution of Decius, and was buried in the cemetery of Callixtus, on the Appian Way, after reigning fifteen years and four days. He held five ordinations, in the month of December, in which ordinations, he made two and twenty Priests, seven Deacons, ana eleven Bishops for divers places. 

Saint Sebastian

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Saint Sebastian

Martyr
(† 288)

Saint Sebastian was an officer in the Roman army, esteemed even by the pagans as a good soldier, and honored by the Church ever since as a champion of Jesus Christ. Born at Narbonne, Sebastian came to Rome about the year 284 and entered the lists against the powers of evil. He found the twin brothers Marcus and Marcellinus in prison for the faith, and when they were close to yielding to the entreaties of their relatives, encouraged them to despise flesh and blood, and to die for Christ. God confirmed his words by miracles: light shone around him while he spoke; he cured the sick by his prayers; and in this divine strength he led multitudes to the faith, among them the Prefect of Rome, with his son Tiburtius.

He saw his disciples die before him, and one of them came back from heaven to tell him that his own end was near. It was in a contest of fervor and charity that Saint Sebastian found the occasion of martyrdom. The Governor-Prefect of Rome was converted to the faith and afterwards retired to his estates in Campania, taking with him a great number of his fellow-converts to this place of safety. It was a question whether Polycarp the priest or Saint Sebastian should accompany the neophytes. Each was eager to stay and face the danger at Rome; finally the Pope decided that the Roman church could not spare the services of Sebastian, who therefore remained amid the perils in the city.

He continued to labor at his post of danger until he was betrayed by a false disciple. He was led before Diocletian and, at the emperor’s command, pierced with arrows and left for dead. God raised him up again, cured, and of his own accord he went before the emperor and conjured him to halt the persecution of the Church. Again sentenced, he was beaten to death by clubs, and crowned his labors by the merit of a double martyrdom.

Reflection. Your ordinary occupations will give you opportunities of laboring for the faith. Ask help from Saint Sebastian, both wise and prudent.

Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, a compilation based on Butler’s Lives of the Saints and other sources by John Gilmary Shea (Benziger Brothers: New York, 1894).