Blessed Agnellus of Pisa (1195-1236) and Saint Euphrasia (380-420). Both Agnellus and Euphrasia, while very different from each other, possessed hearts of service and sacrifice for the Lord, committing their lives to the Gospel, and working to spread the Christian faith with profound humility and meekness.
Blessed Agnellus of Pisa is remembered as the founder of the English Franciscan province, credited with bringing the Franciscan rule to Great Britain in 1224. Admitted into the Order by Saint Francis himself, Agnellus was a tireless missionary of God’s love, going wherever he was asked, enduring harsh and inhospitable conditions.
Born in Pisa of noble family, as a youth he encountered Saint Francis, and was admitted directly into the Seraphic Order, where he became known for his pursuit of holy perfection. Saint Francis, recognizing in this young man not only zeal for God’s law, but also the meekness and humility required to counsel great leaders, mediate misunderstandings, and secure the spread of the order. Saint Francis first dispatched Agnellus to Paris, where he erected a convent, and upon success was ordered to England to establish the province. Along with nine companions, Agnellus traveled to Dover in the winter of 1224, subsisting on the alms and kindness of those they encountered, truly living the rule of poverty. They survived the winter, eating little but bread and fermented beer. Within months, Agnellus had secured a house in Oxford, which eventually became the examplar for all Franciscan provinces. Agnellus, despite his lack of personal schooling, established a school for friars at Oxford, which led to the development of the university there.
Blessed Agnellus sent his brothers across the region, and throughout Europe, spreading the word of God. He was counselor to Kings and Prices, and worked tirelessly to assist these leaders in finding political options in avoidance of war and suffering. Given his strict observance of the rule of poverty, his frequent fasting and mortification, and his travels, is was not surprising when he contracted a fatal disease. Upon returning to Oxford, he eagerly awaited death, crying out repeatedly for three days, “Come, Sweetest Jesus, Come!” His body, incorrupt, was buried in Oxford.
Saint Euphrasia was born into Roman nobility, the daughter of Antigonus, Senator of Constantinople, and cousin to Roman emperor Theodosius I who finished the conversion of Rome to a Christian state. When her father died, while Euphrasia was still very young, she and her mother became members of the emperor’s court. Euphrasia’s mother was a woman of great faith, and upon becoming a widow, consecrated her remaining years to God. With her young daughter, she moved to Egypt, where she owned an estate, and attached herself to a convent there. She would visit the sisters in faith each day, bringing young Euphrasia with her. At approximately age 7, Euphrasia requested that she be allowed to enter the convent, which her mother joyously allowed, saying, "Lord Jesus Christ, receive this child under Your special protection. It is You alone whom she loves and seeks; to You she recommends herself.”
Euphrasia moved into the convent, and her holy mother died a few years later, leaving her with these parting instructions: “"Fear God, honor your sisters, and serve them with humility. Never think of what you have been, nor say to yourself that you are of royal extraction. Be humble and poor on earth, that you may be rich in heaven." Upon her mother’s death, Euphrasia was recalled to Constantinople by the Emperor, as he had arranged a political marriage for her. Euphrasia was not to give up her vow of virginity and consecration to the Lord, however, and wrote the Emperor explaining as much. She further requested that all of her land and estates be sold, with the money used charitably to aid the poor. In her own words:
"Invincible emperor, having consecrated myself to Christ in perpetual chastity, I cannot be false to my engagement, and marry a mortal man, who will shortly be the food of worms. For the sake of my parents, be pleased to distribute their estates among the poor, the orphans, and the church. Set all my slaves at liberty, and discharge my vassals and servants, giving them whatever is their due. Order my father's stewards to acquit my farmers of all they owe since his death, that I may serve God without let or hindrance, and may stand before him without the solicitude of temporal affairs. Pray for me, you, and your empress, that I may be made worthy to serve Christ."
The emperor, moved by her faith, executed all her wishes before his death in 395.
Saint Euphrasia exemplified humility, meekness, and charity. She was frequently tormented by temptation, which upon guidance from the abbess, she overcame through physical and oftentimes exhausting penitential labors. In one case, as recorded in her life, she repeatedly moved a pile of heavy and painful stones from one place to another for thirty days, at which time, the temptations she struggled with left her.
She was known for driving demons out of those possessed, as well as miraculous cures, saying, “May He who created you, heal you!” Euphrasia lived an austere life, relishing with holy ardor the love of the Lord. She persisted in self-imposed fasting nearly every day, spent much of her time in prayer, and yet was often times treated poorly due to her status as a foreigner in Egypt. Even in moments of mockery and humiliation, she remained humble and meek, oftentimes falling at the feet of her accusers, and begging that they pray for her. She died peacefully at age 40.
Blessed Agnellus and Saint Euphrasia were confronted with multiple obstacles and ridicule in their lives, but through their humility and meekness were able not only to overcome these obstacles, but witness to the love of Christ in the process. The exhibited that special quality, the quality that made those who encountered them wonder about what made them different from others? We know the answer is the grace of God, the identification with, and living of, the Christian life we are all called to. How often are our lives, our behaviors, witness of that call to others? How often, when we meet someone, do they wonder what makes us different, special, grace-filled, at peace?
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."