17. The Pearl of Sicily
(The life of St. Agatha)
The precious pearl of heaven, Saint Agatha, was born and raised in Sicily, Italy in the 3rd century AD, when the Emperor of Rome was Decius.
She was only fifteen years old when the persecution of the Christians began. But the divine love that burned her breasts for her beloved Jesus was so great that she was not afraid at all. Instead she ran to support the Christians of her country and help them to remain faithful to the true faith of Christ.
She said that we live temporarily on this earth and that our true home is in heaven, in God's embrace. What's the point, then, of living here for a few years of false joys and pleasures and then losing the eternal happiness of Heaven?
She helped them with her example, to love her heavenly Bridegroom of Jesus even more and for His grace not to fear anything, not even the terrible tortures of the idolaters.
She passed on to them what she herself lived and that was the secret of her power, that is, the longing for eternal life and the love for her God the Father, His only begotten Son and the Holy Spirit.
With this teaching, the young fifteen-year girl was reinforcing and strengthening the faith of her Christian Brothers, who with courage and strength were confessing the true faith in our Lord Jesus in front of the cruel pagans!
Everyone knew little Agatha, the young girl who was orphaned at a very early age. You see, God wanted to take her pious parents near to Him when she was still very young. But these blessed parents had already helped their little girl with their example and their words, to know, to trust and be extremely in love with the God of her heart.
Using the large fortune left to her by her parents, and with the advice of her good spiritual father, she helped a multitude of afflicted and poor people, Christians and non-Christians. Widows, orphans, the sick, and every soul who felt despair and hopelessness, felt the caress of her love.
All the people loved her and in her face recognized the angel of God, as they called her, who was sent to them by God to alleviate their pain and poverty, but mainly to strengthen their souls in the true faith of Christ.
Her greatest joy was to speak to all the people about the unique Father of her soul, who was our Heavenly Father. She spoke to them of the great love He had for all of us, that made Him send His only-begotten Son to earth to be sacrificed. She was talking to them about our sweet Jesus and what He revealed to us about the Kingdom of Heaven. She emphasized that they could also become heirs of this Kingdom, as children of God who they were, just by seeking the Holy Spirit through Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. Without the Holy Spirit, she said to them, a soul cannot enter the Kingdom of God.
In 251 A.D, while the great persecution against Christians, which had been declared by the Emperor Decius, raged, Quintianus became the prefect in Sicily. Naturally, the great activity of the small Christian Agatha did not go unnoticed by the new prefect of Sicily. Especially, when he learned about the noble origin of the small orphan Agatha, but also the large fortune left to her by her parents, he decided to win her favour. Quickly, however, he realized that this was not going to be easy, so he sent a detachment to arrest her and bring her before him in the city of Catania, where he had the headquarters of his administration.
When Quintianus saw her in front of him, he was so dazzled by her beauty and her noble stature, that he thought to make her his wife. So he tried with cunning to persuade her to sacrifice to idols so he would not to be forced to submit her to the harsh tortures like other Christians. He sent her, then, to stay for a while with a woman called Aphrodisia, famous for her sinful life. She and her daughters tried in a thousand and one ways to make the young Christian stray from the path of virtue.Little Agatha, however, resisted with strength against all the sensual suggestions and promises of Aphrodisia. Armed with a firm belief in Jesus Christ and His bloody sacrifice on the Cross, she remained firm in her love for Him. This angered Quintianus, who ordered his soldiers to submit her to many tortures and then to throw her in prison, believing that could break the martyr.
The next day he tried again to persuade her to sacrifice to idols. Then again, Agatha courageously faced the prefect, declaring belief only in the one true God. The prefect then got so angry that he ordered them to undress her and for the executioners to rip off one of her breasts with red hot pincers. After this monstrosity was finished, he ordered them to lock her in prison again.
Inside the prison Agatha tried, despite the pain of the agonizing mastectomy, to pray continuously to her beloved Jesus to give her strength to endure the tortures and not flinch at all.
Suddenly the prison was filled with a heavenly light and she saw a child entering holding a lighted candle and behind him there followed an elderly man, who was holding in his hands a small box with many medicines. But when he asked her to show him her wounds, she refused. The elder was then obliged to disclose that he was the apostle Peter and the young man was her guardian angel and he was sent by Christ's command to heal her and to strengthen her in her struggle. When the vision disappeared, the little martyr of Christ found that all her wounds had healed and her breast had been restored.
The guards, seeing all these miracles, and also that her bonds had come undone on their own, were very afraid and fled, while the other prisoners urged the holy martyr to seize the opportunity to leave the prison. She, however, strengthened by the grace of the Holy Spirit, was asking for the help of her Bridegroom Jesus Christ to make her worthy of her martyr crown until the end! The divine love that burned in her heart for her beloved Jesus was so great, that she couldn't wait for the time to suffer the last torment, which would lead her to the heavenly kingdom and into the arms of her well-beloved God.
After four days, Quintianus invited her again to account for her beliefs at the small amphitheater of the city. When they brought her before him, he was unable to hide his surprise and admiration, seeing her not only healed but shining with beauty and grace. He attributed this to the false gods of Olympus, so he asked her to make a sacrifice of gratitude to them.
Our Saint, however, refused and told him loudly, so all the people could hear, that her beloved Jesus was the one who healed her and not the false gods he worshipped.
Her confession angered the wicked prefect more, so he ordered them immediately to light more coals and throw broken tiles on them, and when they were burning red hot to throw little Agatha on them.
While the executioners were performing this despicable act and the martyr of Christ was enduring this torture without complaining, suddenly there was a great earthquake and the volcano Etna started erupting fire, red hot stones and lava that threatened to destroy everything in its path.
All the people felt that this event was the intervention of divine justice for the unfair treatment of the young virgin and with tears begged the prefect to stop torturing the young girl. Because he was afraid that the people would revolt, he ordered them to imprison Agatha again.
In the prison our little Saint, weary of the terrible tortures, uttered her last prayer. Already her beloved Jesus had invited her to His heavenly kingdom. Then our Saint peacefully gave up her soul into the hands of her King Jesus, Whom she loved and adored like nothing else on earth.
It was 5th February 251 AD.
After the death of our Saint the Christians received her body for burial. But when they went to put her holy relic into the tomb that had been prepared, suddenly a young brightly clothed man appeared, who was accompanied by a hundred children, all of them unknown in the city of Catania. The young man was holding a marble slab which he placed on the tomb of the Saint. On the slab were written these words: “Holy and virtuous mind, Honour to God and Freedom for the Country”. This meant that the Saint had a holy mind, virtuous, separated from each carnality and vanity, who with her own will went to martyrdom. Her sacrifice was glory to God and would help to save the country from the darkness of idolatry.Everyone understood that the young brightly clothed man was the guardian angel of her soul, whom our Saint loved very much, and those children were angels of God and that's why they glorified God.