Contemplata aliis Tradere

A meagre contribution to the mission and work of the Order of Preachers: my reflections, thoughts, ideas and the occasional rant on matters mainly theological, philosophical and ecclesiastical, drawn primarily from my reading and experience of life and the world. Striving to be always Catholic, firmly Christian and essentially Dominican, flavoured with dashes of Von Balthasar.

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Location: Oxford, United Kingdom

A son of the English Province of the Order of Friars Preachers (Dominicans); born in Malaysia but have lived in the USA, Singapore, the UK & the Philippines for varying durations. A pilgrim and way-farer, a searcher for Truth on the journey of Life... "Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!" - Hilaire Belloc

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Gift of Virginity even unto Death

St Agatha - whose memorial would normally be kept today - the patroness of Sicily, was a martyr for Christian virginity, faithful unto death to her consecration to Christ. The sixth-century account of her martyrdom and the retelling of that in the 'Golden Legend' is particularly dramatic and vivid. It pitches "the virgin Agatha [who] was highborn and a great beauty" against "Quintianus, the consular official in Sicily, who was baseborn, libidinous, greedy and a worshipper of idols" who went to such as extremes as to even "twist her breast for a long time and then cut it off"! But despite the many tortures devised by the cruel Quintianus, St Agatha remained steadfast and refused to surrender to his lust or to deny Christ and worship pagan idols.

But while she was imprisoned, the apostle Peter appeared to her and healed her in the name of Christ; "Agatha knelt in thanksgiving and found that all her hurts were healed and her breast restored to her bosom." This enraged Quintianus the next day, especially when the saint attributed the miracle to "Christ the Son of God". He then advanced to torture her still further but this caused an earthquake which terrified the populace. They came to the palace and demanded that Quintianus desist, for the good people were convinced that her unjust treatment was causing the earthquake. Finally, he returned Agatha to prison and there she prayed saying: "Lord Jesus Christ, you created me, you have watched over me from infancy, kept my body from defilement, preserved me from love of the world, made me able to withstand torture, and granted me the virtue of patience in the midst of torments. Now receive my spirit and command me to come to your mercy." And so she died in the Lord, about the year 253, in the reign of the emperor Dacian, in Catania.

She was laid in a sarcophagus and came to be venerated by even pagans and Jews, so great was her sanctity. It is believed that her veil has more than once saved the town of Catania from the advance of molten lava from Mount Etna and her name was inserted into the Roman Canon as a mark of the Church's high regard for this saint. Moreover, the lovely Introit antiphon, "Gaudeamus omnes in Domino...", which has been adapted by the Liturgy and used for feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary and others, was originally composed for St Agatha and it reads: "Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating a festival in honour of blessed Agatha, virgin and martyr; at whose passion the angels rejoice and give praise to the Son of God."

Like all the great virgin martyrs, St Agatha reminds us of the very highest regard which the Church has for consecrated virginity; the very gift of self to Christ, even unto death. In an age when our general understanding of the sanctity of virginity and consecration to God is diminished, the life and passion of a virgin martyr like Agatha challenges us to reconsider our bias. We are led to recall that virginity is precious and holy to God, something to be cherished and in the Church's best tradition, offered to the Lord in consecrated and religious life.

As the Holy Father said on 2 February, the Day of Prayer for Consecrated Life, "Their way of living and of working is capable of demonstrating in a continuous way their full belonging to the one Lord." Fidelity to such a way of life is demonstrated in the most dramatic and heroic manner by the virgin martyrs.

May St Agatha and her fellow virgin martyrs pray for all who have been called to consecrated virginity.


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