Let me set the stage: winter 2009; a small, drafty little Catholic school; an eighth grade Confirmation class of fifteen students – ten boys and five girls. Middle school girls can be vicious and it is time to pick confirmation saints.
It didn’t take long for us to start fighting over the saints with beautiful names. We were 13. I don’t even remember which one specifically (Cecelia maybe?), but there was one point where three of us had our hearts set on the exact same saint. Now I must confess another detail that has been consigned to the fuzzy oblivion of old memories: I have no idea why we couldn’t have the same name. Was it our teacher’s rule? Was it our own pride and desire to be unique? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But either way, there was a while there when confirmation saints were a far-too-sensitive topic for us.
If you know me, you know that I do not handle hostility well . . . or at all, really. So I was probably the first to get the heck out of that fight. I did more research (our choice was accompanied by a written report) and found St. Margaret. At this point, thirteen-year-old me is still set on a beautiful name, preferably one that I’m not going to have to fight for, and gosh darn it I had found one!
Now is a good time for me to remind you of the title of this post. St. Margaret is great, but she did not choose me. Being a private school, the planners they ordered for us had feast days and Church fun facts sprinkled throughout. One day, before we had made the final decision on our saints, I flipped forward to January 21st, my birthday. In all honesty I was probably going to doodle fun birthday hats and cake and whatnot on that part of the page, as if I needed the reminder. Instead, what I found was that my birthday was a feast day for a female saint! The planner had maybe a sentence in it that told me she was thirteen (my age at the time) when she was martyred and that she was the patron saint of all girls. At the time, however, I did not think that she had a very pretty name: Saint Agnes of Rome.
Thankfully, I set the quest for a “beautiful” name aside for a little while to do my research. Saint Agnes lived in the fourth century in Rome, when it was illegal to be a Christian. She was known for her beauty and died to preserve her virginity; she had promised her life to Christ. There are lots of other details, depending on which accounts you trust. Unfortunately, accounts on early martyrs can vary greatly.
I fell in love with Agnes’ story and slowly, over the years, have fallen in love with her name, which I now know is Latin for “lamb.” I still have not figured out exactly why Agnes chose me, but I have loved sharing my day with her and so many other girls.
In the midst of learning to love her more and ask more frequently for her intercession, God threw me a little surprise via Totus Tuus. Shortly after we were assigned our teams, we had time to be alone, just the four of us, and get to know each other. I love to ask other Catholics the story behind their saints; it’s fun to know and I like to share my own story. So in the dark of a car ride back to the retreat center, I pose this question to my team. In my excitement I decide to answer first. I tell them about fighting with my classmates and about Margaret, then I say that my saint is Saint Agnes of Rome and that her feast day is my birthday. The second I finish my story my teammate Sydney says, “your birthday is January 21st!” Now up until this point I could tell, even in the darkness of the highway, that she was looking at me funny. I was just too caught up in my story to think too much about it. She quickly followed up her interjection with an explanation: “we have the same Confirmation saint!” All of this transpired in a matter of seconds and was followed by some excited probably-near-screaming that the boys may not have appreciated very much.
Throughout the summer, we checked every church we visited for statues and stained glass windows with Saint Agnes. And of course, each statue called for another selfie of St. Agnes and the girls of team St. Pope John Paul II.
I still don’t think I know why, exactly, St. Agnes chose me. But I do know that she has certainly spoiled me and I’m so grateful to have her by my side as a friend and intercessor.