Think back to that year before you were officially a “teenager.” What were you doing when you were 12 years old? I think to when I was 12 and remember I was completing my last year of braces, worried about pre-pubescent acne, and getting irritated on a daily basis at how nosey my parents were. I was discovering rock music on the radio and learning to play the flute in band. I was focused on my friends and the fact that I couldn’t tame my curly hair into submission. My life orbited around my needs, my plans, my desires.
We honor and celebrate Agnes, our martyr in Rome in the year 304. This lovely young woman lived in an era of great Christian persecution under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Under this Emperor as well as others who shared his opinions, Christians were stripped of all rights as citizens, beaten, burned, tortured, and killed for their faith.
Known as one of the most heinous periods of Christian persecution and lasting for 10 years, this attempted purge of all Christians out of the life of Rome affected our little Agnes. She was caught up in this tumultuous time. She was imprisoned for her faith and tortured as she would not renounce her faith and turn to Rome’s pagan pantheon of gods. Ultimately, our Agnes was killed for her faith to Christ: some say she was burned alive and some say she was beheaded. In the end, she chose her faith and peace in Christ despite all worldly pain and suffering it caused. Our little Agnes was only 12.
I am struck by this child in that here I stand, caught up in my own stresses and worries and frustrations. I am easily irritated by those situations I cannot control. I am easily disheartened when events do not turn out as I anticipated, when people do not behave how I expected, and I am disappointed. I then think to my life as a 12 year old and how different I was compared to Agnes!
Jesus said in our gospel that each of us should be humble like the children who were surrounding Him. He said that we should welcome the children into our house and into our hearts. We should welcome those innocent people who desire to be like Him, who love Him with their hearts and their smiles and their lives. Jesus went on to warn us that if anyone acts as a stumbling block to those little innocents that we should have a stone tethered to our necks and tossed into the sea and drowned. That is a gruesome image coming from our peaceful Christ. But I believe those are powerful words striking to the core of how we should respond as believers in Him to those who are seeking salvation.
Those innocents could come in the form of children, much like those children who are in St. Luke’s right now. They run and play and cry and whine. But they are Christ’s, and I have been reminded of that fact each time I am with them and teach them. And yet, those innocents could also be those guests and visitors who are seeking and searching for something they cannot yet name. We must also be to them as Christ commands us to be, loving and accepting and welcoming them into our home, the church, as He welcomes us into His Kingdom.
I pray that I never forget the life of little Agnes, caught in a brutal and troubled world when she was but a child. I pray that when I am overwhelmed by my life, that I remember hers and thank her for her sacrifice. And, finally, I pray that I am humble as Christ has taught me and welcome all innocents into His house and allow His grace and peace to shine through me to them.