Friday, January 21, 2011

Day 4: Week of Prayer for Christian Unity / St. Agnes of Rome (c. 292-305)

God of Justice, your giving is without bounds. We thank you that you have given what we need. Inspire us to be instruments of love, sharing all that you give us, as a witness to your generosity and justice. As followers of Christ, lead us to act together in places of want. We pray in the name of Jesus, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we reflect on the fellowship (koinonia) of the community of faith. Fellowship is an oft-used, sometimes overworked, word among church folks, and can have many meanings. Episcopalians' first thoughts probably turn to the ample spread of good food at Sunday coffee hours or at potlucks! But there are many other kinds of fellowship: the frequent coming together of the church community; the act of a church's members reaching out to people of other faiths or to people in the surrounding community for activities, projects, concerns, etc.; the oneness that we feel in sharing Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist; acts of visiting the sick, working in a food line for the needy, ministering to people in prison or their families. Jesus' reminder rings loud in our memory: "As you did it for one of these, the least of my sisters and brothers, you did if for me."

I was thinking of St. Agnes this morning and marvelling at and trying to figure out how a 13 year old girl came to have the courage and fearlessness to give her young life for Jesus. In his treatise On Virginity, the great Bishop Ambrose of Milan, writing only about 70 years after Agnes' martyrdom, also wonders about this. "The cruelty which did not spare even so young a child serves only to demonstrate more clearly the power of faith which found witness in one so young. There was not even room in her little body for a wound. Though she could barely receive the sword's point, she could overcome. Girls of her age tend to wilt under the slightest frown from a parent...But Agnes showed no fear...Too young to have any acquaintanceship with death, she nevertheless stood ready for it...Is this a new kind of martyrdom? The girl was too young to be punished, yet old enough to wear a martyr's crown...Everyone was weeping, but she herself shed no tears. The crowds marvelled at her spendthrift attitude to life, discarding it untasted, but as if she had lived it to the full. All were astonished that one not yet of legal age could give testimony to God..." We have no way of knowing how Agnes arrived at such spiritual maturity. Her fellowship with sister and brother Christians in Rome was the fellowship, the sharing of courageous example, of witnessing, literally martyria, to the One on whom she'd set her heart and her life.

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