Thursday, January 21, 2010

St. Agnes (d. 258?)

Almost nothing is known of this saint except that she was very young—12 or 13—when she was martyred in the last half of the third century. Various modes of death have been suggested—beheading, burning, strangling. Legend has it she was a beautiful girl whom many young men wanted to marry. Among those she refused, one reported her to the authorities for being a Christian. She was arrested and confined to a house of prostitution. The legend continues that a man who looked upon her lustfully lost his sight and had it restored by her prayer. She was condemned, executed and buried near Rome in a catacomb that eventually was named after her. The daughter of Constantine built a basilica in her honour.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (3:7-12)

Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him. Whenever the evil spirits saw him, they fell down before him and cried out, You are the Son of God. But he gave them strict orders not to tell who he was.

The True Work
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

If we let our minds range across the Scriptures and think of the prophets and holy men who preceded Christ, is there any prophet who - on the very face of it - appeared as being in his class? In this Gospel of St Mark another prophet is described - John the Baptist. Mark tells us that “there went out to him from all Judea and Jerusalem” people who were baptized by him in the Jordan. They came from Galilee too because our Lord, for one, came from Nazareth to be baptized by John, and we find Galileans among John’s disciples - such as Andrew and John. But in the case of our Lord, our passage today tells us that apart from the “large crowd from Galilee” that followed him, people came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon. His fame went abroad, and once when he retreated to neighbouring pagan territory we read that a Canaanite woman pursued him addressing him as the “Son of David.” She would not leave off till she obtained the cure of her daughter. Granted the greatness of such as Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezechiel, still, the Gospel texts suggest that the people were drawn to Jesus to a degree that was not matched by the prophets before him. The authority with which he spoke, and the constant power he wielded over nature and the underworld eclipsed the holy men before him. As Matthew reports (9:33), the people were amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” In the accounts of the prophets before Christ we do not read of the demons being flushed out in such numbers. Their presence was brought to light, and they could not restrain their fear and frustration before Christ. In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel our Lord taught and healed in the synagogue of Capernaum. It was too much for an unclean spirit that was also there - it bawled out at Jesus demanding that he leave them alone. They knew who he was, it said: the Holy One of God! In our Gospel passage today, whenever the evil spirits saw him they fell down and cried out, “You are the Son of God!” But he imposed silence on them.

The entire scene (Mark 3: 7-12) bespeaks power, authority, stature and holiness. Jesus Christ towers above all. Yet he is humble, unassuming, and while imposing limitations on the demons, he does not compel the recognition or allegiance of his fellow men. But let us notice his command to the demons: they were not to “tell who he was.” Our Lord was well aware of the impression he was creating on the people, but he was also well aware of how ephemeral this impression was. He was a great light that had arisen in the land of darkness - as the prophet had put it - but his work required much more than impressions. The pressing danger was that the people would look on him merely as a great wonder-worker who could provide for their temporal and material needs. Our Lord’s intention in healing the sick and casting out demons was to point to the greatest liberation yet to come and which he would soon effect. He had come to take away the sin of the world, to give men the gift of holiness and the power to be children of God. The problem with many in the vast crowds seeking out our Lord, was that they desired not freedom from sin and the gift of sanctity, but benefits for this life alone. Our Lord could provide those things - he healed, cast out devils, raised the dead - but these miracles were a sign of something far greater that he wished to give. Some even wanted our Lord to be just a political king who would bring them a regime of great material prosperity. They wanted a kingdom of this world filled with the benefits Jesus was providing in his miracles, whereas our Lord had come to establish the kingdom of heaven here on earth. The challenge before our Lord was to bring the children of Israel to desire this far greater benefit and to do the work that was required for it. That work was repentance: repent, for the kingdom of God is near at hand. It was also a work of faith: this is the work of God, that you believe in the one he has sent. A great change of mind was required of the people if the striking impression, which because of his person and ministry he was giving, was to have its intended effect. However great Jesus Christ was and is, man must be properly disposed to receive him.

In a word, we must approach Christ with the desire for God. He it is who brings God to man. He it is who redeems man from the thraldom of sin and enables him to love God. Do we wish to be freed and cleansed from sin? Do we wish to be good? Do we wish to be holy? If we desire it, Christ will enable us to attain it with the gift of his grace, which comes with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for these fundamental predispositions that make of us good soil for the seed of God, a seed that can, together with our work, produce in us a harvest.

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