On Jan. 21, the Roman Catholic Church honors the virgin and martyr St. Agnes, who suffered death for her consecration to Christ.

Although the details of Agnes’ life are mostly unknown, the story of her martyrdom has been passed on with reverence since the fourth century. On the feast day of the young martyr – whose name means “lamb” in Latin – the Pope traditionally blesses lambs, whose wool will be used to make the white pallium worn by archbishops.

Born into a wealthy family during the last decade of the third century, Agnes lived in Rome during the last major persecution of the early Church under the Emperor Diocletian. Though he was lenient toward believers for much of his rule, Diocletian changed course in 302, resolving to wipe out the Church in the empire.

Agnes came of age as the Church was beginning to suffer under a set of new laws decreed by Diocletian, and his co-ruler Galerius, in 303. The emperor and his subordinate called for churches to be destroyed and their books burned. Subsequent orders led to the imprisonment and torture of clergy and laypersons, for the sake of compelling them to worship the emperor instead of Christ.

Meanwhile, Agnes had become a young woman of great beauty and charm, drawing the attention of suitors from the first ranks of the Roman aristocracy. But in keeping with the words of Christ and Saint Paul, she had already decided on a life of celibacy for the sake of God’s kingdom. To all interested men, she explained that she had already promised herself to a heavenly and unseen spouse.

These suitors both understood Agnes’ meaning, and resented her resolution. Some of the men, possibly looking to change her mind, reported her to the state as a believer in Christ. Agnes was brought before a judge who tried first to persuade her, and then to threaten her, into renouncing her choice not to marry for the Lord’s sake.

When the judge showed her the various punishments he could inflict – including fire, iron hooks, or the rack that destroyed the limbs by stretching – Agnes smiled and indicated she would suffer them willingly. But she was brought before a pagan altar instead, and asked to make an act of worship in accordance with the Roman state religion.

When Agnes refused, the judge ordered that she should be sent to a house of prostitution, where the virginity she had offered to God would be violated. Agnes predicted that God would not allow this to occur, and her statement proved true. Legends say that the first man to approach her in the brothel was struck blind by a sudden flash of light, and others opted not to repeat his mistake.

But one of the men who had at first sought to make Agnes his own, now lobbied the judge for her execution. In this respect, the suitor obtained his desire, when the public official sentenced her to die by beheading. The executioner gave her one last chance to spare her life, by renouncing her consecration to Christ – but Agnes refused, made a short prayer, and courageously submitted to death.

St. Agnes, who died in 304, was venerated as a holy martyr from the fourth century onward. She is mentioned in the Latin Church’s most traditional Eucharistic prayer, the Roman Canon.


 He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him. Mark 3:9

I love the details written into this gospel. Here we see a side of Jesus where he understands a need for limitations—and perhaps his own form of social distancing. I appreciate his foresight. He ministers to multitudes yet responds to our humanity—and his—with a contingency plan. This Teacher goes up mountains to pray before attempting to handle it all on his own. This God-Man temporarily withdraws with his disciples when heavily pressed. He doesn’t tempt the Father to bail him out of binds by continually pushing ahead. Instead, he prays and plans and sets boundaries. An example worth emulating. Lord, when others’ needs heavily press us, help us imitate you—recognize limits, pray and plan.




Sebastian was the son of a wealthy Roman family. He was educated in Milan and became an officer of the imperial Roman army, and Captain of the Guard. He was a favorite of Emperor Diocletian. During Diocletian’s persecution of the Christians, Sebastian visited them in prison, bringing both supplies and comfort. He is reported to have healed the wife of a fellow soldier by making the sign of the cross over her. During his time in the army he converted many soldiers and a governor.

Charged as a Christian in 288 in Rome, Sebastian was tied to a tree, shot with arrows, and left for dead. However, he survived, recovered, and returned to preach to Diocletian, where the emperor then had him beaten to death.


[Jesus looked] looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart… Mark 3:5

It’s barely chapter 3 of the Gospel according to Mark, and Jesus has already had enough! God prepared the Chosen People 3000 years for their Messiah, and now, some of them seemingly miss the message—just because Jesus focuses on some poor soul with a withered hand? Maybe it was just too small. Jesus tries to educate them: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil?” (verse 4). Silence. If they could only see what the author of the Letter to the Hebrews sees in the first reading: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek,” the anchor of the messianic message ever since the days of Abraham. A priest, whose liturgy is healing, unwithering our hard little hearts—that’s our Jesus.



Saint Charles was born John Charles Marchioni in Sezze, Italy on October 19, 1613.  His family was extremely pious. They lived in a rural area and as a child Saint Charles worked as a shepherd.  Due to his lack of education, it is said he learned only the basics and could barely read and write. He joined the Franciscans as a lay brother in Naziano, where he served as a cook, porter, and gardener.

Saint Charles was known for his holiness, simplicity, and charity.  He was generous to travelers and sought out spiritual advice.  In 1656 he worked tirelessly with victims of the plague. He also wrote several mystical works including his autobiography entitled “The Grandeurs of the Mercies of God”. Tradition states he was called to the bedside of the dying Pope Clement IX for a blessing. St. Charles told the Pope that they would meet again on January 6.

Saint Charles died on January 6, 1670 in Rome of natural causes, fulfilling his promise to meet Pope Clement IX, and he is buried in Rome in the Church of Saint Francis. He was Canonized by Pope John XXIII on April 12, 1959.


“Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they?” Mark 2:18-19

The people in today’s gospel didn’t trust Jesus. So they decided to lay a trap for him, thinking that they could put him in a no-win situation. But they didn’t grasp what Jesus was saying—that life here on earth is fleeting, that celebrating the moment is important, that they had someone amazing right in front of them. Beginning last March, millions of us unexpectantly could no longer spend time with Jesus in a very important way. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were unable to receive Communion or visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In a very real way, we were without our bridegroom. We were forced to fast. Today, whether we are fasting or not, we can strive to appreciate that Jesus loves us dearly and enjoy the blessings that we have been given.


Movie Shelf – The Queen’s Gambit

Openings matter a great deal in chess, and “The Queen’s Gambit,” a new Netflix mini-series about a wunderkind of the game, uses its first few minutes for the purposes of misdirection. A young woman wakes up in a disordered Paris hotel room and washes down some pills with minibar booze while racing to dress for a Very Important Game of Chess. The period is the late 1960s and the vibe is Holly Golightly groovy wild child.

Based on the novel by Walter Tevis, the a seven-part series is co-created and directed by Scott Frank, the man behind Godless — one of 2017’s best shows. The opening episode, has an enchanting, storybook feel. Beth stumbles on the game when she’s sent on an errand to the basement lair of the orphanage’s forbidding custodian, Mr. Shaibel (a canny, finely etched performance by Bill Camp). The game immediately makes sense to her — when nothing else in her life does — and at night she runs through the moves he teaches her on an imaginary board she sees among the shadows of the prisonlike dormitory where she sleeps.

The series tells the story of Beth Harmon, from the age of eight to 22, as she evolves from an abandoned misfit into one of the greatest champions the world of chess has ever seen.

We see her arrive at an austere orphanage in the 1950s, a remnant and reminder of her mother’s suicide attempt. She braves the regimental rigidity of her new home by seeking solace in the basement, where a lonely janitor named Mr Shaibel spends his spare time by playing chess with himself. He reluctantly takes the curious Beth under his wing, and teaches her the basics of the game. Within days, she’s drubbing him in less than a dozen moves. He leans back in awe, barely able to comprehend Beth’s genius. The innocent girl asks if she’s any good. “To tell you the truth of it, child, you’re astounding,” he says.

The Queen’s Gambit isn’t as much a show about chess as it is a show about kindness. Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp) would be the first person in Beth’s life to offer her a shoulder to lean on, as she struggles with the onset of mental illness and a debilitating dependency on drugs.

Over the next few years, as Beth goes from winning local tournaments to being hailed as America’s foremost challenger against the Soviets — a proxy war that unfolded in real life as well, when Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky faced off at the height of the Cold War — many others align themselves with her. Some are in it for the attention that Beth brings, but over the course of her young life, she forges a series of genuine relationships — from Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), the woman who adopts her as a teenager and encourages her passion for chess, to the many men who are drawn to her alluring nature.

We learn about Sicilian defences and doubled pawns; about adjournments and endgames. But at no point is the show inaccessible. This is a remarkable achievement. It moves elegantly and enthrallingly, without ever alienating its audience.

It manoeuvres around the traps that have consumed innumerable movies in the past — movies that spend way too long at the table, and waste a disproportionate amount of time trying to teach the viewer pointless details about the game. Although I am willing to wager that it will meet the standards of any chess expert who wishes to scrutinise its accuracy.

Some of the show’s best face-offs are literally that — two characters, sitting across each other, engaged in a mental duel. In a few of the most high-stakes matches, the chessboard isn’t even seen. That’s an astonishingly bold directorial decision to have made. If Beth corners her opponent, as she often tends to, we don’t see it represented by the falling of a rook, but we see it in star Anya Taylor-Joy’s eyes. And what enchanting eyes they are — capable of communicating more eloquently than a thespian with 12 Tonys.

The Queen’s Gambit soars with the sort of confidence on screen that Beth displays on the board. It relies on its audience to connect the dots themselves; nudging them in the right directions, but resisting the urge to feed crucial information through clunky dialogue and plot contrivances. This makes the payoffs all the more satisfying, because you feel a sense of accomplishment for having arrived at the correct conclusions.

And as Beth Harmon takes her seat across her challengers — entitled and arrogant men of all ages — she glances up from the board, and with the briefest of looks, pierces their souls with her eyes. She sees fear. And what they see rattles them: a young girl, more skilled than they could ever imagine to be. In those moments, before either player is on the clock, Beth knows that she has won. And not just at chess.

The series is currently showing on Netflix.



Born in London, William Carter entered the printing business at an early age. For many years he served as apprentice to well-known Catholic printers, one of whom served a prison sentence for persisting in the Catholic faith. William himself served time in prison following his arrest for “printing lewd [i.e., Catholic] pamphlets” as well as possessing books upholding Catholicism.

But even more, he offended public officials by publishing works that aimed to keep Catholics firm in their faith. Officials who searched his house found various vestments and suspect books, and even managed to extract information from William’s distraught wife. Over the next 18 months, William remained in prison, suffering torture and learning of his wife’s death.

He was eventually charged with printing and publishing the Treatise of Schisme, which allegedly incited violence by Catholics and which was said to have been written by a traitor and addressed to traitors. While William calmly placed his trust in God, the jury met for only 15 minutes before reaching a verdict of guilty. William, who made his final confession to a priest who was being tried alongside him, was hanged, drawn, and quartered the following day: January 11, 1584.

He was beatified in 1987.


As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Mark 1:16-17

I do love the beginning of Ordinary Time. And it’s not just the relief at the end of holiday craziness either. It’s the matter-of-fact boldness of it all. We’ve just been immersed in weeks of contemplation of prophecy and expectation, darkness and light, the marvel of the Word Made Flesh, God come to us as a helpless human child. We’ve meditated, sung and celebrated. We’ve been all about the mystery. So now what? Well, according to this, it’s not too complicated. It may be hard, it may be risky, but no—it’s not complicated. “Come after me.” Jesus, I hear your call to me now, in this moment.

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