Sermon on the Feast of St. Agnes, at St. Agnes Church, Brooklyn, New York, January 1898

Rev. L.A. Grace’s Sermon in St. Agnes’ Church
The Brooklyn Eagle, January 24, 1898

Yesterday morning, the Rev. L.A. Grace preached in St. Agnes’ Church, Hoyt and Sackett Streets, taking as his text Psalms xvii:40: “Thou hast girded me with strength unto battles, and has subdued under me them that rose up against me.” He prefaced his account of the birth, virtues, sufferings, and martyrdom of St. Agnes by contrasting human warfare with the great and relentless war waged by the world, the flesh, and the devil against heaven, the spirit and Jesus Christ. In the former only the strong of limb, the stout of heart, only the sterner sex, are as a rule, employed in active operations against the enemy. They of the “waxen heart,” as a poet has called women, have no place on the bloody field, unless it be after the battle, to minister to the wounded and dying, and by tender voice and velvet touch to smooth the pathway of the soldier to the grave. But in the spiritual warfare, all must engage and do battle to the end. The great captain is Christ, who gives special emphasis to the complexion of his army when he says by the mouth of St. Paul: “The foolish things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the wise, and the weak things of the world hath God chosen that he may confound the strong.” Nations keep a record of their warrior dead, and on stated occasions deck their monuments with flowers, laud their memories and rehearse their achievements for the instruction of prosperity. The great kingdom of God on earth, the Church, has her calendar of apostles, martyrs, confessors, from Stephen the deacon to the last of God’s elect recently canonized by the venerable pontiff Leo. Sometimes it is the spiritual birthday on an early Christian warrior like Paul, who died by the sword of man only after he had made the two edged sword of the word of God cut its way into the hearts and mind of millions. Sometimes it is the feast-day of a medieval saint like Francis or Dominic, whose spiritual soldiers rallied around them and upheld the standard of the cross: of a Louis, fighting the Saracen, of Aquinas, as powerful with the pen as his fellow saints were with the sword in defense of Christian truths. And because “the crown of glory is not to the strong alone,” the calendar of the Church is burdened with the names of mother, wife, maid, and woman penitent. After illustrating how women have swollen the ranks of saintship from the various callings in life, from queenship to that of humblest servant, the preacher sketched the life and times of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr. She was born towards the close of the third century, of noble Christian parents, and was from her infancy dedicated to Christ as His spiritual spouse. As the preacher unfolded the more prominent instances in her short but uneventful career of thirteen years, he drew practical lessons as applicable at the present time, “when the grace of redemption abounds as in the days when the human heart was Satan’s stronghold and Christian virtues were shadowed only in prophecy. Owing to St. Agnes’ refusal to enter into marriage with a young Roman patrician who had been ardently attracted to her by her beauty, wealth and accomplishments, she was betrayed by him to the Roman prefect as a Christian. Entreaties and threats proved of no avail against her constancy and she was exposed to indignities from which miraculous intervention alone saved her. Exasperated by her obstinacy, the prefect ordered the executioner to decapitate her, which was done. “Swift within the portals of paradise,” concluded the preacher, “speeds her lovely soul. Cohorts of angels salute her as their rival in angelic innocence! Ranks upon ranks of martyrs wave their palm branches in her honor as one who drank to the bitter dregs the chalice of suffering and bore away the crown. The virgin queen of heaven, her mother, her pattern, her protectress, bids her saintly welcome to the mansions of God’s elect. Her divine spouse, Jesus, for whom only she lived and moved and had her being, holds out His arms to greet her. Close to his divine bosom, the source of her faith, her purity and her love, she nestles like a startled dove at peace, to be disturbed never more by threats or fears.”

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