Today, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Agnes. Among her many devotees, there stands a very special one: Saint Thomas Aquinas. You might say the Dumb Ox had a special love for this saintly lamb.
Out of devotion to her, Thomas carried Agnes’s relics with him. He had recourse to Agnes and her relics on a journey, when his companion, Reginald, fell ill with a strong fever. Thomas applied Agnes’s relics to him and prayed for his healing. By heaven’s intercession, Reginald was cured, and to commemorate this cure, Thomas inaugurated an annual dinner with his students on the feast of Saint Agnes.
Most Catholics are used to the idea of the intercession of the saints. If you lose something, ask Saint Anthony. If you have throat issues, seek Saint Blaise. And if a problem seems hopeless, go to Saint Jude. Such intercession is powerful, but the story of Agnes and Thomas shows us something more. It is not simply a story of intercession, but truly a story of friendship.
This idea of friendship with the saints appears in Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium:
It is supremely fitting, therefore, that we love those friends and coheirs of Jesus Christ [i.e., the saints in heaven], who are also our brothers and extraordinary benefactors, that we render due thanks to God for them and “suppliantly invoke them and have recourse to their prayers, their power and help in obtaining benefits from God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is our Redeemer and Savior.” (LG 50, quoting the Council of Trent)
The Council Fathers express our communion with the saints in terms of friendship and brotherhood. Underlying our prayer intentions, there should be love.
Thomas carried Agnes’s relics with him, not like a lucky rabbit’s foot, but as a special remembrance of a friend. When Reginald became sick, Thomas turned to Agnes, displaying his trust in her friendship. And the annual dinner served as an ongoing thank-you to Agnes.
Following Saint Thomas, we can imitate his example in how we foster a friendship with a saint.
Most of us don’t have a saint’s relic to carry on us, but we can carry a saint with us in other ways. For example, on his trip to Brazil, Pope Francis carried a book about Saint Thérèse in his briefcase. Or, we can keep a holy card in our wallet.
Our prayers may not effect the miraculous healing of the sick, but prayer is always fruitful, though most fruit goes unseen. A novena to our favorite saint, for instance, can prove quite powerful.
And an annual feast for our befriended saint, this is always a good idea. I recommend making a hot breakfast for the people you live with. But there are other options: visit a shrine, buy some flowers, do an act of charity, etc. Enjoy the wonderful physicality of the Catholic faith.
But for the best way to celebrate a saint’s feast, Lumen Gentium has the final word:
Our union with the Church in heaven is put into effect in its noblest manner especially in the sacred Liturgy . . . . Celebrating the Eucharistic sacrifice therefore, we are most closely united to the Church in heaven in communion with and venerating the memory first of all of the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, of Blessed Joseph and the blessed apostles and martyrs and of all the saints. (LG 50)
Image: Massimo Stanzione, St. Agnes