Today is St. Agnes’ Day (and my wife’s birthday!).  Guess which is more important to me?  No contest!  I do have to admit that honoring my wife’s birth on the day I also honor a consecrated virgin child’s martyrdom makes for odd juxtapositions in my mind.  And I’ve always had some trouble getting behind St. Agnes.

Depending upon accounts, she was twelve or thirteen, a consecrated virgin or someone unwilling to marry a pagan (or both), and went to her martyrdom (during the Diocletian persecutions) as eagerly as any bride went to her marriage.  It may be I don’t really understand the context for all this (female virgin martyrs were really big back then).  But there has never seemed, to me, to be all that much to celebrate here.

On the other hand, I understand Martin Luther King, Jr better.  His day is really April 4 (when he died) in our calendar.  But one of the books I use regularly has him down for January 15 (which is the secular celebration date).  It goes on to quote from the end of his “I have a dream” speech — which of course I’ve heard a number of times.  Only it goes back just a little further than I remember hearing before.  It talks about the redemptive power of suffering:

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of excessive trials and tribulation.  Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells.  Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality.  You have been the veterans of creative suffering.  Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Maybe there is something in the juxtaposition of Martin and Agnes and redemptive suffering.  Giving one’s life for what one believes in, as both did, and as Jesus did, can obviously have enormous impact on the world we live in.  I’m going to have to think about this more …