Denver, Colo., Jan 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - On Jan. 21, the Roman Catholic Church honors the virgin and martyr St. Agnes, who suffered death for her consecration to Christ.
Eastern Catholics of the Byzantine tradition celebrate her feast day Jan. 14.
Although the details of Agnes' life are mostly unknown, the story of her martyrdom has been passed on with reverence since the fourth century. On the feast day of the young martyr – whose name means “lamb” in Latin – the Pope traditionally blesses lambs, whose wool will be used to make the white pallium worn by archbishops.
Born into a wealthy family during the last decade of the third century, Agnes lived in Rome during the last major persecution of the early Church under the Emperor Diocletian. Though he was lenient toward believers for much of his rule, Diocletian changed course in 302, resolving to wipe out the Church in the empire.
Agnes came of age as the Church was beginning to suffer under a set of new laws decreed by Diocletian, and his co-ruler Galerius, in 303. The emperor and his subordinate called for churches to be destroyed and their books burned. Subsequent orders led to the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons, for the sake of compelling them to worship the emperor instead of Christ.
Meanwhile, Agnes had become a young woman of great beauty and charm, drawing the attention of suitors from the first ranks of the Roman aristocracy. But in keeping with the words of Christ and Saint Paul, she had already decided on a life of celibacy for the sake of God's kingdom. To all interested men, she explained that she had already promised herself to a heavenly and unseen spouse.
These suitors both understood Agnes' meaning, and resented her resolution. Some of the men, possibly looking to change her mind, reported her to the state as a believer in Christ. Agnes was brought before a judge who tried first to persuade her, and then to threaten her, into renouncing her choice not to marry for the Lord's sake.
When the judge showed her the various punishments he could inflict – including fire, iron hooks, or the rack that destroyed the limbs by stretching – Agnes smiled and indicated she would suffer them willingly. But she was brought before a pagan altar instead, and asked to make an act of worship in accordance with the Roman state religion.
When Agnes refused, the judge ordered that she should be sent to a house of prostitution, where the virginity she had offered to God would be violated. Agnes predicted that God would not allow this to occur, and her statement proved true. The first man to approach her in the brothel was struck blind by a sudden flash of light, and others opted not to repeat his mistake.
But one of the men who had at first sought to make Agnes his own, now lobbied the judge for her execution. In this respect, the suitor obtained his desire, when the public official sentenced her to die by beheading. The executioner gave her one last chance to spare her life, by renouncing her consecration to Christ – but Agnes refused, made a short prayer, and courageously submitted to death.
St. Agnes, who died in 304, was venerated as a holy martyr from the fourth century onward. She is mentioned in the Latin Church's most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.
Little Rock, Ark., Jan 15, 2012 (CNA) - The St. Andrew School of Formation (Escuela de Evangelización San Andrés) is offering classes in Arkansas to teach Hispanic Catholics about their faith and how to evangelize others.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock approved the program in March 2011 for use by the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office throughout the state.
The program offers Hispanic Catholics in Arkansas an opportunity to learn more about their faith, so they can use that knowledge to promote the faith to others.
"The end goal of this program is of empowering people to live out faith and be fully converted. This is what I want for my people. They grow in faith and gain the tools to share it. It is a great gift for the diocese," said Father Tony Robbins, pastor of churches in Camden, Hope and Warren and at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Magnolia, Ark. where they recently offered the first course for 15 parishioners.
When Jaime Torres, associate director of Hispanic Ministry, joined the diocese of Little Rock, he knew this adult formation program could help people grow.
"We didn't have something established where the people could come and get formation. With my experience, I know how important that is," Torres said. "I used to be in a gang. I went looking for something. They didn't have anything for me. They said my calling was something else, not in church. This school opens the door for everybody – not just the movements or ministries – but for everybody."
These formation classes made a difference in his own life, he said, after he left his old life of gangs and drugs behind for his faith.
"At first when I started, it was hard for me to know about Jesus and about my faith. I used to say I was Catholic, but I didn't know anything about Catholic. When I started going to these courses, I started knowing better about Jesus," he said.
Torres first encountered the program in 2003 when he was searching for an adult formation program that offered more. He met the founder, Jose H. Prado Flores, at a retreat in Mexico. The program was founded in 1980 and is based in Guadalajara, México. In addition to the United States and Mexico, the program is taught in Colombia, Italy, Brazil, Hungary, Portugal, Canada and Argentina.
After reading some of the books Flores gave him, Torres came back to Arkansas. He attended additional courses in California and Texas. He encouraged others to seek out formation courses as well. He credits the formation with transforming his life, a transformation that eventually led to his working for the Diocese of Little Rock.
"Now that I'm here at the diocese, that's a big step. It was a dream when I started church. Nobody liked me before because I was a gang member. I remember once that I told this guy that I would like to be one day (working) in the diocese. He just started laughing and said 'I think that's never going to happen.' And I told him 'You never know. If that's God's will, I will be at the diocese some day,'" he said.
Now Torres is working to grow the school and presenting it to parishes around the state who are interested in offering classes.
He is also working with the Hispanic movements in the state to develop a group of leaders. The goal is to have a school in each region of Arkansas.
The program is divided into three stages with seven courses in each stage, a total of 588 hours.
The school is named after St. Andrew who brought his brother Simon Peter to meet Jesus. The goal is to train people to do the same with the other "Peters" in the world.
Father Robbins encouraged his parishioners to participate and hopes to involve all his parishes in the formation. The first course, Nueva Vida (New Life), was held in December 2011 in Magnolia, Ark. The second course, Emmaus, will be held later this month in Hope, Ark.
After the first course in Magnolia, Father Robbins has seen a positive outcome from those who attended.
"Initially, I've seen people becoming very motivated to continue. They're enthusiastic about the courses. They have a desire to share their experiences – that's a great start and a sign of conversion and God's presence."
Posted with permission from The Arkansas Catholic, newspaper for the Diocese of Little Rock, Ark.
Sacramento, Calif., Jan 15, 2012 (CNA) - A proposed California ballot initiative to require parental notification for abortions and another initiative to end the death penalty both won the support of the state’s Catholic bishops, who say the proposals will bring “common sense, compassion and prudent justice” to public policy.
Both initiatives bring into focus “important moral issues” about how society treats “nascent life, family life, and even a sinful or errant life.”
Social policy should “respect and support the role of parents” while justice should “uphold human dignity as it protects the community,” the bishops said.
Backers of both initiatives are trying to gather enough support to place them on the 2012 ballot.
The bishops detailed the reasons for their support in a statement published by the California Catholic Conference.
The Parental Notification Initiative would require a girl aged 12-17 to include her parents in a decision to obtain an abortion. Current law allows secrecy for “confidential medical services,” which the California bishops said could allow a girl to have multiple abortions at state expense without her parents’ knowledge.
Parents are responsible for their daughters’ medical and emotional needs, but present policy denies them accurate information about her health, the bishops added.
“As Catholics, we believe and teach that we bear the image of God. We come to life as the result of humanity’s collaboration in God’s creative work,” they said.
The family has the duty to care for children, and government “serves best” when it supports families in “their irreplaceable task of nurturing the next generation.”
The bishops also support an initiative its sponsors call SAFE California, an anti-death penalty measure which claims to offer Savings, Accountability and Full Enforcement.
The proposal would replace the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole.
“We have long held that the use of the death penalty is no longer necessary to protect the community,” the bishops said.
“As Catholics we hold human life as sacred. In the exercise of justice, this principle must prevail in the manner we treat one another, even for those who have done grave harm. Justice requires proportionate and effective means in the protection of society. As citizens, we find the use of the death penalty unnecessary, impractical and expensive.”
Vatican City, Jan 15, 2012 (CNA/EWTN News) - Pope Benedict XVI has emphasized need for good spiritual counsel for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood or religious life.
“I would like to emphasize the critical role of spiritual guidance in the journey of faith and, in particular, in response to the vocation of special consecration for the service of God and his people,” the Pope said during his Jan. 15 Sunday Angelus address.
“God’s call to follow Jesus more closely, giving up forming their own family to dedicate themselves to the great family of the Church, is normally done through the testimony and proposal from a ‘big brother,’ usually a priest.”
Also instrumental in the process, he said, are parents “who by their genuine faith and joyful married love, show children that it is beautiful and possible to build all your life on the love of God.”
Pope Benedict made his remarks from the window of his apartment to several thousand pilgrims gathered below in St. Peter’s Square on a sunny winter day. He illustrated his point by making references to today’s Scripture readings at Mass.
The Gospel tells of how John the Baptist identified Jesus as “the Lamb of God” on the banks of the River Jordan. Thus he acted in the “role of mediator,” leading two of his disciples to discern that they must follow Christ.
Similarly, in the First Reading, it is the high priest Eli who advises Samuel that it is God and not he who is calling out his name in the night. Samuel takes Eli's advice and, when his name is called a fourth time, he replies, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”
The Pope concluded his comments by entrusting all educators, “especially priests and parents” who help young people discern their vocation in life, to the Virgin Mary.
After the Angelus, the Pope noted that Sunday is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. He reminded pilgrims that the millions of refugees worldwide are “not numbers” but “men and women, children, young and old looking for a place to live in peace.”
He also highlighted the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity that will run Jan. 18-25. Pope Benedict invited everyone “to join spiritually and, where possible, practically, to ask God for the gift of full unity among the disciples of Christ.”