Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sant'Agnese, My Old Friend: I Am So Grateful to You.

I have loved Saint Agnes since I was in graduate school. I used to pray at her altar in the crypt of the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.

I really brought my searching heart there, to her, in those youthful days.

Also, I often went to Mass at St. Agnes parish in Arlington, Virginia. The parish has a shrine to her centered on the beautiful sculpture pictured on the left.

Agnes the Roman maiden became a very special friend to me. Here was this young girl whose heart was made heroic by the grace of Jesus. I was inspired by her.
"Saint Agnes raised her hands and prayed: 'Holy Father, hear me. I am coming to you whom I have loved, whom I have sought and always desired'" (antiphon for evening prayer, feast of St. Agnes).
Her total love for God still flows over the world seventeen hundred years after her death, drawing many people after on the path of consecrated life, and reaching out to countless others who have sought her help. She points us all in the direction of that unique relationship that God wills to have with each one of us.

When I lived in Rome, I found her presence to be almost palpable. She loves Rome and ordinary Romans very much, and they still love her too.

On this day 21 years ago (hard to believe it's been that long), I went to the feast day celebration at her Basilica on the Via Nomentana, and they opened the catacomb for people to freely visit the tomb. There, I felt moved to ask her to find me a wife, and I promised that if she did (and if the wife agreed) we would name our first daughter after her.

This was not in any way an attempt to "bribe" a saint, or a superstitious effort to conjure up her heavenly assistance. It was an exuberant gesture of the heart, born of the conviction that Agnes of Rome really, personally cared about me. She participated in Jesus's love for me -- the love that engenders a human reality that is destined to last forever: the communion of saints.

And St. Agnes did guide me and help me.

Two and a half years later, Eileen and I returned to Rome on our honeymoon and renewed the promise at her tomb. It was Eileen actually who advocated that we give our daughter the beautiful Italian form of the name, Agnese (pronounced On YAY zay).

Obviously, our first child was a boy, but needless to say John Paul's name was also inspired by the experience of Rome. Then, on December 21, 1998, a little girl was born, and a promise was fulfilled.

St. Agnes has been a special patroness of our family through the years. She continues to look after us, especially her "spiritual daughter," my own "little girl" who is now a young lady, my eldest daughter whom I've loved since before she was conceived. Hard to believe there was a time.

It's all so mysterious.

Agnese Janaro, age 16, from this past Christmas.