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Homily on the Patronal Feast of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

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Homily on the Patronal Feast of Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr

Church of Saint Agatha of the Goths


5 February 2024

Sg 8, 6-7

Ps 30 [31]

1 Cor 1, 26-31

Lk 9, 23-26


In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today, we rejoice in the victory of God’s grace over the forces of evil in the life of a young girl, Saint Agatha of Catania, in the Year of the Lord 251. From a worldly perspective, no one, especially a young girl, could withstand the oppression of the civil authorities who wanted to rob Saint Agatha of her virginity, of her total espousal to Christ. And no one, especially a young girl, could withstand the cruel tortures of the same authorities who wanted to rob Agatha of her martyrdom, of her faithful love of Christ, her Bridegroom, even unto death. Saint Agatha was united to Christ her Bridegroom by the divine love celebrated in the Canticle of Canticles: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”[1] Saint Agatha understood the truth that betraying divine love for any earthly end is pure folly.[2]

The Holy Spirit, dwelling within her young soul, gave Saint Agatha a power far greater than any authority of this world can exercise. Indeed, as Saint Paul teaches us, God chooses for His own those whom the world considers foolish and weak to give witness that He alone is our wisdom and strength.[3] God the Father has made His Incarnate Son alone “our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”[4] Our only boast in life, as Saint Agatha testified by her virginity and by her martyrdom, is Our Lord, our life in Him in the Church.[5] Blessed Cardinal Ildephonse Schuster, in his commentary on today’s feast, writes in conclusion:

It is not the martyr’s own strength, but grace, which enables him to overcome the torments; therefore the angels exult, not because of his sufferings alone, but because through them God is glorified, and the innocent victim who was outlawed in this life, acquires the right of citizenship in the heavenly Jerusalem. [6]

The civil authorities robbed Saint Agatha of her earthly life, but they could not rob her of Christ’s life in her, of her virginal espousal of Him and of her faithful love of Him until the end. She is forever with Christ, King of Heaven and of Earth. She enjoys forever the victory of her virginity and of her martyrdom.

We are not only deeply grateful for the victory of Saint Agatha in itself but for the power of her intercession on our behalf, on behalf of the universal Church. As Blessed Ildephonse Schuster declared:

Yet under the influence of the Holy Ghost, St Agatha fearlessly faces the cruel and foul malice of her persecutors, and crowned with the double crown of virginity and martyrdom, she flies to her heavenly Spouse, and becomes henceforth the protectress of her native city and of the whole Church. [7]

How often Saint Agatha has been invoked for protection against the eruptions of Mount Etna in Catania, her native city, and against natural disasters in every part of the world. How much we should invoke her intercession for the grace to follow Our Lord on the way of the Cross, trust His promise to us:

If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. [8] 

How often today worldly powers ask us to put our trust in them by abandoning the way of the Cross, the way which Our Lord teaches us and on which He leads us in the Church, the way of pure and selfless love! How often worldly powers urge us to the folly of seeking our happiness in the world and, thereby, losing our eternal happiness in Heaven.

The same Holy Spirit, dwelling in the soul of Saint Agatha, dwells in our souls for the glory of God and the salvation of the world. How often the spirit of the world would have us think that the way of the Cross is too much for us, too much for any human being. But Saint Agatha gives witness to the truth that even the poorest and the weakest of us can be strong in Christ because the Holy Spirit, divine grace, dwells within our souls. If only we cooperate with divine grace, we can follow Christ and win with Christ the victory over sin, the victory of eternal life. Following the example of Saint Agatha and invoking the help of her prayers, let us set out again on the way of the Cross, our only hope, our sure hope of eternal life.

May all who venerate the memory of Saint Agatha today, the day of her birth into Heaven, draw ever closer to her and thus draw ever closer to Christ, her Bridegroom, Our Divine Savior. May this Church of Saint Agatha of the Goths be a spiritual home in which we meet Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, and learn from her the wisdom of losing our lives for the sake of Christ and His saving work.

In a special way, today, I thank again all of those who made possible the restoration of the facade, the courtyard, the pipe organ, and the sanctuary floor of this historic church. Since our joyous celebration of the restoration on February 5th of last year, the work on the courtyard has been brought to a conclusion with a system of illumination. May all these works be for our edification, inspiring us to imitate Saint Agatha by embracing ever more faithfully and generously Our Lord and His way of the Cross.

One in heart with the Immaculate Heart of the Virgin Mother of God, let us lift up our hearts to the glorious-pierced Heart of Jesus, opened for us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May we lose our hearts in the Sacred Heart of Jesus and thus may our hearts ever rest in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, now on earth and, at the end of our earthly pilgrimage, eternally in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Heart of Jesus, from whose fullness we have all received, have mercy on us.

Mary Immaculate, Virgin of Virgins and Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.

Saint Joseph, Guardian of Virgins and Protector of the Church, pray for us.

Saint Agatha, Virgin and Martyr, pray for us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Raymond Leo Card. BURKE

Cardinal Priest of the Church of Saint Agatha of the Goths

[1] Sg 8, 7.

[2] Sg 8, 7.

[3] Cf. 1 Cor 1, 27-29.

[4] 1 Cor 1, 30.

[5] Cf. 1 Cor 1, 31.

[6] “Non sono già le forze del Martire, ma è la grazia che lo rende superiore ai tormenti; onde gli Angeli ne esultano, non già precisamente per i soli patimenti, ma perchè per mezzo di essi Dio viene glorificato, e l'innocente vittima, posta al bando quaggiù, acquista diritto di cittadinanza nella Gerusalemme superna.” Schuster, Card. A. I., Liber Sacramentorum. Note storiche e liturgiche sul Messale Romano, Vol. VI (Torino-Roma: Casa Editrice Marietti, 1930), p. 223. [LS]. English translation: Ildefonso Schuster, The Sacramentary (Liber Sacramentorum), Vol. III (Parts 5 and 6), tr. Arthur Levelis-Marke (Waterloo, ON: Arouca Press, 2020), p. 414. [LSEng].

[7] “Eppure, sotto l'azione dello Spirito Santo, Agata santa affronta impavida la crudeltà e l'oscena malizia dei persecutori, e, cinta della duplice corona di verginità e di martirio, vola allo Sposo celeste, per divenire la protettrice della sua città natale, anzi di tutta la Chiesa!” LS, p. 221. English translation: LSEng, p. 412.

[8] Lk 9, 23-24.