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Today, however, is the Feast of St. Agnes of Assisi, and this brings to mind a dear friend whose mom's name was Agnes. To hear her speak of her mom and the trials she endured toward the end of her life reminds me so much of her patroness; she lived her example well.
My friend's mom had a neurological degenerative disorder like Parkinson's Disease. It left her sound in mind, but limited in ability to control her body and function independently -- eventually it left her bedridden. But, as my friend describes Agnes, you get a sense that she was deeply faithful, incredibly strong, and understood that God's mercy sends the grace of resilience.
St. Agnes did not give up easily either. She followed her sister, St. Clare, into the monastery against her family's wishes. They tried to remove her forcibly without success. God provided supernatural assistance to make her too heavy to carry and temporarily paralyzed an uncle who also attempted to remove her. Agnes would do God's will alone.
And so it was with my friend's mom; debilitated or not, she would stubbornly cling to what she knew to be true -- her faith and her free will. She would do what she could for as long as she could with a tenacity that can only be derived supernaturally. She did indeed imitate this dear saint.
Today, I reflect on this as Western culture struggles with end of life issues; the value and dignity of life in it's last stages. St. Agnes -- who was responsible for establishing many convents that bore the name of her sister, St. Clare, and was saddened by being separated from her sister for so long in this world -- suffered bravely and carried out her mission. She respected the will of God and followed it courageously even denying her own happiness and independence.
In the end, St. Agnes was recalled to San Damiano where her sister Clare was dying. She witnessed the passing of her sister into eternity. St.Agnes didn't wish to hasten death, she knew that a holy death (one that, in that time, didn't come with palliative care) would only bring her sister further reward in heaven, and add to the numbers who make up the Church Triumphant. A mere three months after Clare's death, Agnes followed her into eternity to be separated no longer.
St. Agnes embraced the sufferings of a family that didn't wish her to enter the convent, the separation from her beloved sister, the trials of establishing religious orders, and eventually witnessing the death of her sister. Her resilience and fortitude are symbolic of her love of Jesus, and her deep and abiding understanding of the value of sacrifice and redemptive suffering.
These virtues are what I hear each time my friend speaks about the life and holy death of her mom, Agnes; how the struggle to remain alive until it was her time to be called home changed hearts and brought peace and comfort. Her life -- to the very end -- reminds those who knew her (and those like me, who didn't) of her spirit, and the stories resound with joy and laughter of Agnes' insistence that she had more to do here even under the worst of physical and medical circumstances.
We shouldn't give up so easily on life. We should follow the holy examples of St. Agnes -- and, hopefully, her counterpart in the Church Triumphant, the un-canonized Agnes that is my friend's mom -- and live the life God has given us to its fullest and final day. Our example may be the only hope that some people ever know, the only Jesus Crucified they have ever seen. If we suffer it well, with love of God and neighbor shining through every moment, it will bring souls to Christ. This was the example of both Agnes' -- faithful, even unto death.
Blessed Feast of St. Agnes!
(for my friend, Anne)