Category Archives: Saints

Saint Agnes

St Agnes lambsThe prayer for Mass has this line that I think is a terrific reminder for us on this feast of Agnes the Virgin Martyr, follow her constancy in the faith. To have steadfastness of purpose in the faith and praxis is not only a terrific grace but also essential.

On the liturgical memorial of Saint Agnes it is custom for Holy Father to receive a couple of lambs. So, today in Rome at 12:30pm at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, two lambs were presented to Pope Francis. The wool of these lambs will be made into to the pallia for the new metropolitan archbishops (nominated since last June 29); six black crosses are placed on the it. The pallium is a stole that the metropolitan wears at “important Masses” in the respective province (unfortunately the archbishop wears the pallium all the time so it takes away from the sign of particular unity between the the particular archbishop and the bishop of Rome).

The wool of the lamb is noted for its purity and what these lambs sacrifice is a symbolic act that points to Christ Himself. Scholars like to point out that the Greek translation of Agnes means pure one while in Latin the name means lamb. The great Church Father Saint Jerome writes: “All nations, especially their Christian communities, praise in word and writing the life of St. Agnes. She triumphed over her tender age as well as over the merciless tyrant. To the crown of spotless innocence she added the glory of martyrdom.”

The lambs are raised by the Trappist monks of the Tre Fontane Monastery and the wool is turned into pallia by the Benedictine nuns of  Saint Cecilia Monastery, where they will care for them and finally shear them on Holy Thursday. The lambs were blessed earlier at the Basilica of St. Agnes Outside-the-walls, where the virgin-martyr is buried.

Thanks to Fr Dominic Holtz, OP for the picture today; Father Dominic teaches at the Angelicum.

The Eve of Saint Agnes

“The Eve of Saint Agnes”

St. Agnes Eve – Ah, bitter chill it was!
The Owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in wooly fold;
Numb were the Beadsman’s fingers while he told
His rosary, and while his frosted breath,
Like pious incense from a censer old,
Seemed taking flight for heaven without a death,
Past the sweet Virgin’s picture, while his prayer saith.

John Keats (1795-1821)

The virgin-martyrs, like the one we honor today, has long been the object of our liturgical and poetic devotion. Some of what is passed on to us us pious legend, yet the substance of her life remains crucial to a vigorous Christian life. Agnes was a girl of 13 when she died —giving her life for Jesus Christ during Diocletian’s reign. Forget not that Constantine was soon to legitimatize Christianity making Agnes among the last of the martyrs. You can read up on those women, like Agnes, who are the most eloquent witnesses to Christ in Michael J.K. Fuller’s The Virgin Martyrs: A Hagiographical and Mystagogical Interpretation.

Keats’ poem develops the theme of lovers who are mortal enemies; his is a poem of the romantic genre which ends well. Indeed, in reality it does end well for Agnes: she gives witness to the love she had for her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saint André Bessette

Saint André Bessette is one of my favorite saints. Something about him and his personal story always struck me as important for my formation. As a high school student at Notre Dame High School (West Haven, CT) I was introduced to Brother André by the Brothers of Holy Cross. Not a lot was said of him unless you asked about the man whose picture hung on the office wall. His life simple and it made an impression on me because his average background resembles my own in a way: André came from an average Catholic working class family with a subtle devotion to St Joseph. Some may say poor, but that is a relative thing when your priorities are not fixated on money and status.

We are fascinated by holiness and the sacred. Just look at the fascination we see today with Pope Francis —the media calls this the “Francis effect”: simplicity and holiness is attractive. But what is really fascinating to me is the life discipleship which opens the heart to works of charity and sanctity. In what ways is André an example of being a disciple of Jesus and the apostles? How does this discipleship form the heart that leads to being made a saint by God? The Church tells us that one avenue to understanding these questions is focus on one’s charity. “Grace does not destroy nature but perfects it,” is the common perspective. To go deeper, grace not only perfects something, this something depends on the personal action of the Trinity. Aquinas will teach, I am told by the Dominicans,

The quantity of a thing depends on the proper cause of that thing, since the more universal cause produces a greater effect. Now, since charity surpasses the proportion of human nature . . . it depends, not on any natural virtue, but on the sole grace of the Holy Spirit Who infuses charity. Wherefore the quantity of charity depends neither on the condition of nature nor on the capacity of natural virtue, but only on the will of the Holy Spirit Who “divides” His gifts “according as He will.  (ST, II-II, 24, 3)

The life of Saint André Bessette was moved by the Spirit to be a friend of Jesus. In recommending his student, André’s pastor said to the Congregation of Holy Cross: “I am sending you a saint.” Note the recognition of holiness early on. Not intellectually gifted, André made his life the object of charity which literally opened doors for others to follow: he was the porter at Montreal’s Notre Dame College. We follow witnesses.

The little way was not only a way of life for the Little Flower but a scriptural manner of living that bore great fruit. You will recall that his heavenly guide was Saint Joseph, the spouse of Mary, and it is to him that Saint André built the largest Catholic church in Canada: St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. He died there in 1937 and then more than a million attended his funeral.

The simplicity of Saint André pointed to Saint Joseph and he pointed to his son, Our Savior. Just after the Epiphany we honor a man who manifested the work of the Holy Spirit in Saint André Bessette. May we follow.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton

EA Seton

Saint Basil the Great and the Holy Spirit

Sts Basil and GregoryThe Church prays today,

O God, who were pleased to give light to your Church by the example and teaching of the bishops Saints Basil and Gregory: Grant, we pray, that in humility, we may learn your truth and practice it faithfully in charity.

Though it is the feast of two saints, I want to concentrate on Basil and his emphasis on the Holy Spirit. We began the new year with the praying of the Veni Creator Spiritus to set new year with a renewed relationship with Triune-God.

One of the great patristic source of our Christian pneumatology comes from Saint Basil the Great. Catholics are frequently, and with good reason, accused of forgetting the work of the Holy Spirit. Some will even call the Spirit the forgotten God. Systematic theologians of the West make the claim that theological reflection, especially in the 20th century, have neglected the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; and I would also claim that these same theologians have neglected the activity of the Holy Spirit in the sacred Liturgy. Too often in theological reflection, catechesis, and preaching the Holy Spirit is forgotten sacramentally and the Mass. No Holy Spirit, no Trinity. The good news is that Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar helped to restore a working knowledge of the Holy Spirit with the publication of his 3 volume work, I Believe in the Holy Spirit.

One of the key parts of Basil’s work, On the Holy Spirit, is his use of the baptismal formulation –the lex orandi, lex credendi– found in Saint Matthew’s Gospel to show that the Holy Spirit is integrally connected with the Father and Son as God;  this formulation is now the tradition of the Church.

“What makes us Christians? “Our faith,” everyone would answer. How are we saved? Obviously through the regenerating grace of baptism. How else could we be? We are confirmed in our understanding that salvation comes through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit . . . If we now reject what we accepted at baptism, we will be found further away from our salvation than when we first believed,” (On the Holy Spirit, 10).

His teaching is clear: we are saved by the regenerating waters of baptism: washed of sin, and anointed as priest, prophet and king, we become by adoption what Christ is by nature. The door of salvation is opened in this sacrament of illumination, regeneration, and adoption. The baptismal grace, therefore, is from the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and it is salvific because it makes the beatific vision possible. We make the salvation known today through baptizing of people “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 28:19).

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
coat of arms



Humanities Blog Directory