During one of Catherine of Siena's ecstasies, she exclaimed, referring to St. Agnes of Montepulciano: "I give you thanks oh my Lord, for showing me the place that will be mine (in Paradise), next to my sister Agnes."
Who is this Saint (virtually unknown in our country) that a powerful Saint and Doctor of the Church - Catherine of Siena should say this of her?
We're about Holy Clusters again. God is bringing us to Tuscany, once more, ancient Tuscany filled with a history of the greatest Saints and most deplorable sinners. Agnes, one of the great Saints was born in 1268, in a hamlet three miles from Montepulciano, named Gracciano, in the "Villa di Gracciano Vecchio." A Dominican like Catherine, Agnes would die April 20, 1317, thirty years before Catherine of Siena was born. Again, the Church is in crisis; again God sends us powerful men and women Saints!
Agnes was born into the nobility. At age nine, she would ask permission from her parents to enter a monastery of Nuns living a very austere life, in Montepulciano. They were called Le Suore del Sacco, Sacchine or Sisters of the Sackcloth, because of the coarse material of which their habits were made.
Seeing her rapid growth in spirituality, an older Nun, Sister Margaret, steeped in holiness, took over her formation. Agnes was wise beyond her years; so it comes as no surprise that at age fourteen she was asked to be housekeeper. When word came that a Nun was needed to take over a new monastery that was being formed in the town of Proceno, Sister Margaret was chosen. She in turn chose Agnes to be her assistant. The Nuns in Montepulciano were heart-broken, as she had made such a powerful impact on their lives; but they obeyed. Soon Nuns were asking to be sent to the new convent in Proceno, and before long Agnes was asked to become Abbess. Now this needed special permission, as she was so very young. Pope Nicholas IV granted a special dispensation to allow the fifteen year old to be elected Abbess. This is just one example of the many gifts our Saint was given at an early age. She attracted people to her by her spiritual insights and her profound holiness.
The Lord blessed St. Agnes with many miracles during her life. Because of time and space, we will just mention a few, some of the most powerful that occurred in front of the Crucifix.
The Miracle of the Holy Water
Sister. Margaret and Sister Agnes set out with all due haste for Proceno and the new monastery. It was autumn and they were dressed in their coarse habits. They had crossed the Paglia River on the bridge of Centeno, and were climbing up a small hill, densely filled with wild brush. What with the intense noon heat and the difficulty laboring through the thick brush, they began to feel tired. They had an urgency to get to the monastery; they wanted to run, at least keep going. They were so close, they could see through the trees the short distance they had to travel before arriving to their final destination. But the fatigue was greater than their desire. It was above all, Sister Margaret the older Nun, who felt the need to sit down, to regain some new energy. And obedient as always, the younger nun, Sister Agnes, agreed to the older Nun's request.
They were almost there, tired, but happy to be coming to the end of their journey. Feeling a bit parched, they sat down on the trunk of a tree, and Sister Margaret put her hand in the wicker basket and withdrew the straw covered wine bottle. She went to take a sip of water, and to her utter dismay, found it was empty. Agnes noticed this and seeing in the face of the older nun, an expression of disillusionment, without saying a word she took a few steps away from Sister Margaret, knelt down on the dirt, and started to dig with her hands. Scarcely a few seconds had gone by, when a spring of water began to flow. At first it was muddy water then clean and fresh. Agnes took a sip; then invited Sister Margaret, who could not believe her eyes, to come close to the spring to quench her thirst.
The spring no longer exists, nor does the small church built by the people of Proceno over the place where the miracle took place. All that remains, to show the first miracle of St. Agnes, is the name of the place "Acquasanta," (Holy Water in Italian) and a statue of the Saint which guards the entire village.
Prayer and Ecstasy
The life of the Sisters of the Sackcloth of Proceno was serene, lived in prayer and the various daily duties, and work that the Nuns did to try bring in funds to cover the expenses of the monastery. A life of poverty, which was the rule of the Nuns, was a testimony of Sister Agnes, who lived for 15 years with no food other than bread and water, slept on the bare dirt floor, using a stone as a pillow. The Saint ceased this hard regime of penance only when illness debilitated her body so much that the doctors ordered her to cease.
Agnes dedicated herself with passion to prayer, finding through prayer the most appropriate means to feel united to her Divine Spouse, a mystical union which became always more intimate. She was blessed with many extraordinary ecstasies, visions and apparitions. Numerous were Agnes' ecstasies, during which she was taken from this world to enter into a supernatural world. As confessor and spiritual director of the Sisters of the Sackcloth in Montepulciano, Blessed Raymond of Capua speaks of the many ecstasies Agnes had in front of the Crucifix, which is still kept and venerated in her Shrine.
Mother Mary shares the Baby Jesus with Sister Agnes.
On the evening of the Feast of the Assumption, Agnes knelt before the Crucifix and prayed to Our Lady, expressing her desire to be able to see Jesus. Whereupon she had an extraordinary apparition:
"There was a glimmer of light never seen before; rays abounded around the light; and in the middle of the light, there appeared, dressed with the sun and crowned with stars, the Queen of the Universe, with the Son of God, the Baby Jesus in her arms, nestled against Her Holy Breast. Blessed Mother was breast feeding the Baby Jesus. Then Our Lady walked over to Agnes and placed the Baby in her arms. Shaken and a little confused, Agnes took the Baby and embraced Him, drawing Him closer and closer to her. She was overwhelmed with indescribable joy and immersed in a sea of bliss."
(Blessed Raymond of Capua)
At the end of the vision, Our Lady came close to Agnes, to take back the Baby; but Agnes, inebriated with joy from her encounter with the Baby Jesus, wanted that moment to last an eternity. Rather than relinquishing Him to His Mother, she held Him all the more closer, so tightly Our Lady had to almost literally pull the Baby from her hands with force. But as she was resignedly letting go of the Divine Infant, Agnes succeeded in grasping a small Cross which, attached to a thin thread, was hanging from around His Precious Little Neck. The Vision disappeared, but the Cross remained in the hand of the Saint, leaving Agnes in such a state of exhilaration that the sisters, who ran at the sound of her cry, found her prostrated on the ground, unconscious.
Agnes and her Eucharistic Christ
During the life of the Saint, the Church was emphasizing the theology of the Sacraments, thanks to the great masters of theology most in demand during the Saint's lifetime, St. Albert the Great, St. Bonaventure, and Saint Thomas Aquinas. In particular was the Eucharist which was (and is) the center of worship of the faithful, stressing above all, the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus in the Consecrated Host and Chalice. Only a few years before the Saint was born, the Miracle of the Eucharist of Bolsena (not far from Montepulciano) occurred. It is almost a certainty that the young Agnes knew about this Miracle, which strengthened her faith and devotion to the Eucharist.
Blessed Raymond of Capua writes about one Sunday at dawn. The Saint was in the monastery's garden, kneeling before the Crucifix, away from everyone, immersed in prayer. She went into such a deep state of ecstasy, that way into the night, she was still on her knees in the olive garden. Now the sisters never dared to interrupt her while she was in prayer. They had tried a couple of times, the first year, but Agnes had reproached them, very decisively admonishing them never to disturb her prayer for any reason whatsoever.
The sun was setting when Agnes finally came out of the ecstasy and remembered that it was Sunday. Now her soul was devastated! She was profoundly remorseful for not having participated in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. But as she was weeping, there appeared before her an Angel offering her a Consecrated Host. Jesus, Whom she had kept company all day in prayer did not wish to deprive her of Himself in the Eucharist. This Miracle repeated itself exactly the same for ten consecutive Sundays.
"Agnes, whom God wanted to guide to perfection, deserved to receive the Body of Christ from the hands of an Angel many times." (Blessed Raymond of Capua)
The sisters gave testimony to this miracle, just as it has been related. They also testified they heard Agnes talk about it as if she was talking of the Divine world; and although the Saint spoke about it obscurely, the sisters from her time related the event very clearly.
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