Saint Agnes, the Virgin Martyr
Today is the feast day of Saint Agnes, the thirteen year old virgin martyr. This morning I told her story to my students, and then I asked them (they are all Catholics), "Have you ever heard a sermon or heard a priest talk about virginity?"
They each answered, "No, I've never heard anything about virginity in Church."
If we simply thumb through the sermons of the Church Fathers, or read the lives of the saints we immediately discern that virginity was once something very important to the Catholics. The great saints and Fathers were preoccupied with promoting virginity in both young men and women. They preached about it and the encouraged it. Other than our traveling Catholic "chastity speakers," I don't know that this message is currently being proclaimed by the Church with the same intensity as in previous ages.
Saint Augustine, as did many of the Fathers, wrote a treatise On Virginity, in which he states that consecrated virgins receive "a unique and transcendent glory" (De Virginitate, 25).
Saint Thomas Aquinas taught that a special halo, the aureole, shall be given to consecrated virgins of both sexes in heaven. He writes:
I answer that, Where there is a notable kind of victory, a special crown is due. Wherefore since by virginity a person wins a signal victory over the flesh, against which a continuous battle is waged: "The flesh lusteth against the spirit," etc. (Galatians 5:17), a special crown called the aureole is due to virginity. (Summa theologiae, III-Supp. q. 96, a. 5)
Why then do we not presently hear the historic Catholic praise for virginity? The Mohammedans hold forth the false promise for their men gaining seventy-two virgins in heaven, but the Catholics no longer seem to hold forth the true promise that virgins gain a special place in Heaven.
Turning to the book of the Apocalypse, we find an army of virgins who are especially dedicated to Christ. These virginal saints have a special degree of sanctity:
And they sung as it were a new canticle, before the throne and before the four living creatures and the ancients: and no man could say the canticle, but those hundred forty-four thousand who were purchased from the earth. These are they who were not defiled with women: for they are virgins. These follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were purchased from among men, the firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth there was found no lie: for they are without spot before the throne of God. (Apocalypse 14:3-5)Here we see that virginity is outward sign of interior purity and a denotes an undivided devotion to Christ.
I think there are two reasons for our contemporary forgetfulness of sacred virginity. The first is that it is politically incorrect. That is, if you speak highly virginity you're going to hurt the feelings of those who are not virgins. While those have have abandoned their virginity through sin can receive forgiveness and grace, their mistake is no reason to not praise the ideal set forth in Sacred Scripture.
The second reason is that parents no longer stress and expect their children to be virgins. Fathers especially need to speak about virginity and encourage their children to be virgins, either until their wedding day or for all eternity. Virginity is perhaps the greatest gift that one can give to God, and it is certainly the most valuable gift that one can give to one's spouse on the day in which you receive the sacrament of Matrimony.
So tell you friends, tell your children, proclaim it from the housetops: Praise virginity. And may Saint Agnes pray for us.
You can read the full story of Saint Agnes by clicking here.