21 Jan – Memorial for St. Agnes, virgin and martyr
At the age of 12 or 13, Agnes was ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods and lose her virginity by rape. She was taken to a Roman temple to Minerva (Athena), and when led to the altar, she made the Sign of the Cross. She was threatened, then tortured when she refused to turn against God. Several young men presented themselves, offering to marry her, whether from lust or pity is not known.
She said that to do so would be an insult to her heavenly Spouse, that she would keep her consecrated virginity intact, accept death, and see Christ. She was martyred for her faith.
St. Agnes is mentioned in the first Eucharistic prayer. On her feast day, two lambs are blessed at her church in Rome, and then their wool is woven into the palliumns (bands of white wool) which the pope confers on archbishops as symbol of their jurisdiction.
– Patron Saint Index
1 Samuel 16:1-13
God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart
There is a lady who ‘hangs out’ at our Lady’s grotto in the front of Church of the Nativity. By all appearances, she seems a homeless destitute for she literally makes her ‘home’ there. She is there practically every day, the whole day, come rain or tropical sun. She has all her belongings with her — her entire material comforts packed up in 2 pieces of luggage and several plastic bags. Some parishioners have remarked, quite insensitively that she is such an eyesore and that having her presence there gives a bad impression of the Church. Several have insisted she should be put into a home. This is “for her own good”. My question back to these ‘Christians’ is a simple one — Really? Are you guys for real?
In this reflection, let me share my own experience and observations of Aileen (her real name – yes, she does have a name! And she is a real person!
Aileen’s presence every day at the shrine has come to mean something very special to me. I make it a point to drop by each day, just to check on her if she is ok. She is one of the most selfless ‘beggars’ I know. Despite her condition and hardship, whenever someone wants to offer her some money, she would politely decline or even suggest a smaller amount (enough for her next meal) and that the person should keep the rest for themselves or their children. I have even witnessed how she took what was offered to her and gave that to another person who happened to be begging for a hand-out that evening (after the initial donor had already left the premises). On another occasion, she showed me a small toy she bought from a nearby shop which she said she was wanted to give to a small child who frequents the shrine with her grandmother every evening. Talk about the pricelessness of the widow’s mite. A ‘beggar’ using what little she has, to buy a toy so that she could bring joy to a child.
I was and still am, deeply moved by such selflessness from Aileen.
Slowly, I made friends with Aileen and now get to converse with her whenever I am at the shrine. She is reserved about sharing her story but I got hints of rejection by family and some trauma in a relationship which caused her to take this path in her life. Out of respect for her, I did not pursue this. Suffice it to say, that after knowing her better, Aileen is in fact, a highly educated person, who is very articulate, is very knowledgeable about a wide array of topics, has a child-like trust in God and a deep love for our Blessed Mother. Aileen, by the way, is/was a medical doctor.
I am reminded of the story of St Lawrence, an Archdeacon of Rome, who, at the time of the persecution of the Church by Emperor Valerian in 258 A.D, was responsible for the treasury of the Church and also of taking care of the poor. Emperor Valerian commanded Lawrence to surrender all the riches of the Church to him. Lawrence complied. However, Lawrence, sold all the material treasure and gave it to the poor. When summoned in front of Emperor Valerian, behind him streamed crowds of poor, crippled, blind and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church’, he boldly proclaimed. St Lawrence, needless too say, paid the ultimate price of discipleship – martyrdom by being grilled on a rack. Just as we also honor another martyr, St Agnes today.
With a heart that is so tender and thoughtful for the poor, I wonder if Aileen is really such an ‘eyesore’ or if she is in fact, a hidden gem, that sits right in front of our eyes. The message of today’s reading and Gospel is simple and direct – what God sees is not what man sees. What God wills is not what man wills. What is thrown aside by the foolishness, arrogance and ingratitude of man, God picks up, embraces and holds dear to Him as precious treasure and brilliant shining gems. Perhaps, like Valerian, we too only cherish what is valued in this world but fail to be like St Lawrence, to know where true treasure lies.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Justus Teo)
Prayer: Father, help us. Lift us out of the smallness of our hearts and the narrowness of our vision from which we are so quick to condemn others and to inflict suffering upon others. Help us, for our spirits are often in bondage to the spirit of this world instead of to your Holy Spirit. Set us free. Only but by your merciful grace.
Thanksgiving: Father, thank you. For the light that your grace keeps bringing to us – the light that leads us out of darkness of sin and of the darkness of our hearts, minds and spirits. Thank you for seeing us as precious in Your eyes, especially when everyone else thinks we are eyesores.