In the middle of a health challenge, it has been a blessing and a consolation this morning to remember Saint Agnes and to meditate on a few scripture passages.
I often read the readings from Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer. This morning I was surprised by this passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (9:22):
“To the weak I became weak, so that I may win the weak.”
As if this was not enough, the first of the Mass readings for the feast of Saint Agnes includes these words of Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 1:27):
“God has chosen … to weak of this world to put the strong to shame.”
It gets more complicated. The short reading for Morning Prayer is, again from Paul, Romans 12:16)
“Put away ambitious thoughts and associate with those who are lowly.”
And the prayer for the Mass of Saint Agnes reads:
“Almighty ever-living God, who choose what is weak in the world to confound the strong…”
I have been wondering if God might be calling me for something more. I am, after all 75 years old, and I’m feeling a call for “more” – the Ignatian “magis.”
Is embracing weakness – as a force for good – part of this call?
Today is the feast of St. Agnes, a virgin–martyr who was killed at the age of thirteen about the year 304.
The opening prayer of the liturgy notes that God chooses the weak in the world to confound the strong, a belief deeply embedded in the theology of the incarnation and in the reflections of St. Paul in his letter to Philippians (chapter 2) and throughout his second letter to the Corinthians, where he notes:
“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”(2 Cor 11:30)
In his reflection of Saint Agnes in All Saints, Robert Ellsberg reveals the subversive power of this virgin martyr:
In the story of Agnes, however, the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to define her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view shared by her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead. Agnes did not choose death. She chose not to worship the gods of her culture. The God she worshiped sets an altogether different value on her body, her identity, and her human worth. Espoused to God, she was beyond the power of any man to “have his way with her.” “Virgin” in this case is another way of saying Free Woman.
May this free woman, Agnes, move us all to worship not a God of power and violence, but a good of weakness and love.
I will return to this theme later, but I have to leave early this morning for the celebration of the closing of the centennial year of our diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima.