You may stain your sword with my blood, but you will never be able to profane my body, consecrated to Christ.Saint Agnes of Rome, martyr (c. 291 – 304)
There are times in the journey of life when we face the harsh realities of our existence. That harshness all too often comes in the form of other people, our history being full of the tension that exists in relationship. Differences abound, and in the face of sometimes insurmountable conflict of perspective we are confronted with a question, the answer to which has lasting impact: who is the other person?
This question, of course, has led to a great many calamities and wars on national and global levels. But locally, individually, a diverging of perspectives is equally as real and complex, and perhaps more emotionally charged. Is the other person sitting across the room from me a friend or a foe? How I treat that person depends a great deal on the answer.
Saint Agnes of Rome, a teenager martyred for her choices in the face of such tension, is one of seven women honored in the recitation of the Eucharistic prayer in the Roman Catholic Mass. While many legends surround the life and circumstances of Agnes, she was likely martyred for choosing to dedicate her life in the service of Christ and the Church rather than one of the Roman suitors seeking her for marriage. Agnes’ choice to dedicate herself (and more radically, her body) to the work of Christ was a bold move for a young girl in any time, but for Agnes it was a move that ultimately cost her life.
As her Roman suitors looked upon her, they didn’t see another human of equal stature, worth, and dignity. They saw property, someone and something that could be controlled, bought, owned. The radical message of Agnes’ choice was a denial of that kind of worldview and a full embrace of the message of Jesus, whose Gospel accounts hold women in a place of high honor and esteem.
On this feast day of Saint Agnes, which is shared with the civic remembrance of the Rev’d Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is essential that we give due and proper consideration to the question, “Who is the other person?” Like Agnes, Dr. King was martyred for answering that question in ways that defied the over/above model of human social constructs and sought to bring down a culture of white racial supremacy. And while Dr. King’s legacy is one of vocal action, St. Agnes’ legacy of quiet determination is no less resilient. There are many forms of the question, “Who is the other person?” that exist in many times and in many contexts. But if the answer to that question is anything other than “an image-bearer of God,” the answer is wrong.
Let us recognize the dignity and worth of each person, each people, and act in ways that uphold and empower everyone in their journey. And in doing so, may we realize a justice and freedom from oppression that flows among us and work to heal the world for which Agnes and Martin – and their Jesus – gave their lives.
May the peace of Christ be with you in your journey,