Three 20-something women trying to figure out what it means to be lay, Catholic, and modern all at once.

February 5, 2009

St. Agatha

Since today is the feast of St. Agatha, my patron, I thought I'd share with you all a little bit about her life, and about why I picked her as my patron on this blog. It's a little difficult for me--I picked her for very intangible reasons--but what is this blog for if not for soul searching and sharing?

Agatha--the names is Greek for "Virtuous" or "Good"--is one of the great Virgin Martyrs, and shortly after her death there arose a great cult honoring her saintliness and virtue. As the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, there is no turly verified account of here death, but the story goes that:
Agatha, daughter of a distinguished family and remarkable for her beauty of person, was persecuted by the Senator Quintianus with avowals of love. As his proposals were resolutely spurned by the pious Christian virgin, he committed her to the charge of an evil woman, whose seductive arts, however, were baffled by Agatha's unswerving firmness in the Christian faith. Quintianus then had her subjected to various cruel tortures. Especially inhuman seemed his order to have her breasts cut off, a detail which furnished to the Christian medieval iconography the peculiar characteristic of Agatha. But the holy virgin was consoled by a vision of St. Peter, who miraculously healed her.
Eventually, after repeated torture and assault, she died.

I first heard the story of St. Agatha as almost a joke--in iconography she is almost always represented with a plate on which stand her breasts. In the Medival church they were often misinterpreted--and she became the patroness of Bell Ringers. In Sicily they celebrate their great saint with little minni di Sant'Aita, which are breast shapped cupcakes. (Some think this incredibly vulgar. I think it's awesome...and weird...anyway, they've been doing it for a long time.)

Anyway, in Christ's resurrected body, the wounds were glorified, right? So why not celebrate her own wounds of martyrdom. As a matter of fact, as soon as I stopped laughing, this is what made me love her most. Because in living the life of a Virgin, one needs to give up everything for Christ. In the office of readings for today, St. Methodius of Sicily says:
A true virgin, she wore the glow of pure conscience and the crimson of the Lamb’s blood for her cosmetics. Again and again she meditated on the death of her eager lover. For her, Christ’s death was recent, his blood was still moist. Her robe is the mark of her faithful witness to Christ. It bears the indelible marks of his crimson blood and the shining threads of her eloquence. She offers to all who come after her these treasures of her eloquent confession.
If one is called to the single life--which, if not forever, I certainly am called to right now--then I must be dedicated to Christ body and soul. So the single girl must practice modesty of dress and manners for the sake of Christ.

Still, I am a woman, and modesty does not mean denying those things that make me a woman. At my alma mater there were a group of girls planning to enter the religious life, and so they dressed in long skirts and sweatshirts--covering up everything so that they would be "modest". This seemed to me to follow the letter of the law, and not the spirit--for they looked like slobs, were inattentive to their femininity, and had no outward grace. Yet, the Carmelites who lived, cloistered, up the street from me were the most feminine and graceful (and beautiful! and ageless!) women I had ever met.

Agatha, it seems to me, represents this struggle so well. In giving herself entirely to Christ, she lost some of those bodily signs of her womanhood (and motherhood!), in a glorious and heroic way. Thank goodness we are not all called to endure torture, but we will all suffer for and struggle with our femininity, and in that, we can all find a patron in St. Agatha.

St. Agatha is also the patron of those who has suffered from sexual assult, those who have breast cancer, single lay-women, wet-nurses, torture victims, and (I don't know why) against earthquakes, fire, and volcanic eruptions.


Edith Magdalene said...

Beautiful post, Agatha. I had no idea about the minni di Sant'Aita! As you said -- awesome, but weird! (And I loved your qualification -- 'they've been doing it a long time') Our pastor gave a great homily about Agatha a couple years ago -- and spoke of her as protecting purity -- He connected it to her being patroness against fires. She was on fire for love of the Lord, yet so often that fire can be misdirected into lust. But God protected her -- she not only protects against physical fires, but she puts out spiritual fire, and ignites the fire of love for Christ -- what a powerful saint!! Happy Feast, and may St. Agatha's fire ignite (and unite) us all in love for the Lord!

Julian said...

I just learned so much about her! Thanks for your post. And happy feast!

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