Saints Agnes and Cecilia of Rome, Martyrs
In the calendar of the church we remember today two early Christian martyrs: Saint Cecilia and Saint Agnes. Saint Cecilia, as a young woman, was married. She converted to Christianity members of her own household; however in the face of the demand from the Roman government to offer sacrifice to pagan idols, a demand she refused, Cecilia was martyred year 280. Saint Agnes, a 12-year old child, was brought to a civil magistrate, before whom she refused to renounce her Christian faith, and she, too, was martyred, this in year 304. Saint Ambrose of Milan wrote about Agnes that “all were astounded that she should come forward as a witness to God when she was still too young to be her own mistress.” The various accounts of Cecilia and Agnes’ martyrdom are appalling, which show something of the impact of the life and death these two young women made upon their contemporaries and succeeding generations.
The word “courage” comes to mind in remembering martyrs such as Cecilia and Agnes. Our word courage comes from the Latin word for heart, cor, then the Old French, corage. Courage emanates from the heart, the heart symbolizing the essence of a person. We hear Jesus say, “Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.”[i] But courage is not something to work on. Becoming courageous is not a spiritual calisthenic. Courage comes as a byproduct, a characteristic or an action which is quite invisible to the person themselves. I have never once heard someone described as having done something courageous who sees this about themselves. Courage is in the eye of the beholder, not in the awareness of the actor.
Courage simply flows from a heart that is fully committed. Whether we are talking about a soldier who has acted in a courageous way for others, or a mother who has courageously stood up to defend her bullied child – and the countless other acts of courage we can witness in the news every day – these people whom we call courageous were quite freely living with absolute clarity how to spend their lives.
For those of us who have pledged to follow Jesus, we shall have countless invitations most every day to lay down our lives. Not to cling to our lives, but to offer our lives in giving witness to the generosity of God’s love. It’s to live our lives as a self-offering. Most of these daily offerings of our life and labor are quite small, maybe not even noticed. However these generous offerings of God’s love exercise our hearts so that we are ready for the big one, should it come. And if it does, our heart will be well toned with strength and courage far beyond what we could have asked for or imagined.[ii]
Blessed Cecilia and Agnes, whom we remember today.
Lectionary Year and Proper: A
[i] John 14:27.
[ii] In a concluding prayer for the celebration of the Holy Eucharist: “…Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 365.
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