INNOCENCE OF LIFE
The stained-glass window on the cover of this week’s bulletin is the “St. Agnes Window”, located at the back of the church, just above the St. Joseph confessional. The donor inscription is the St. Joseph’s Mission, Needham. (St. Joseph’s church in Needham was a mission chapel of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes when this church was built in 1910.)
The symbolism of the window-scene depicts the child-martyr Agnes receiving her double crown of glory—the crown of martyrdom and the crown of virginity. One angel holds out to her the palm of victory, indicating blood martyrdom; the other a brilliant crown of light, which stands for the innocence of virginity. Agnes’s extraordinarily long hair was one of the miracles surrounding her passion, according to the legend of her martyrdom. When the persecutors had her publicly stripped, her hair at once grew long and full to cover her body.
St. Agnes’s name means “lamb”. We are meant to associate it with Christ as the Lamb of God. The gentleness of a little lamb is invested with spiritual and moral meaning here to represent sinlessness, meekness and innocence of life.
Innocence of life is a very good term to convey what Christianity means by the holy virtue of purity. It is a positive thing: it is not a default naïveté, inexperience, “repression” or “what-you -haven’t-done.” It is, rather, a high moral value intertwined with charity. Like charity, innocence of life is what we must learn to grow into and reach up to as we go on in life. It demands of us self-discipline, self-sacrifice and a never-ending struggle to turn away from disvalue to the world of value.
Our contemporary cultural world is, as we well know, glutted with sexual impurity and the exaltation of the most decadent and selfish sexual behaviors, as if they represented great leaps forward in human freedom and social progress instead of the calamities that they do. The moral values of chastity, purity, virginity and innocence of life are not even honored in the breach. They are simply disparaged as holdovers from a past stage of lower human development: the stage of “religious superstition” and patriarchal social control ….not even worth discussion.
If adults who are mature Christians hope to influence the conduct of younger Christians and those coming of age they must lead by example. Clear moral teaching on chastity is very important, on the does-and-don’ts, especially in the area of prudently avoiding the unnecessary near-occasion of mortal sin. But young people are very astute (we know, as we were once like them!) and they have a keen eye for do-as-I-saynot-as-I-do.
Young people for their part need to open their eyes to the false freedom that is represented by the present-day attitudes towards sexual behavior. It is not real freedom: it is wantonness! It is flinging yourself away in base passions, in self-gratification. It is a deliberate, progressive closing off of the self to the possibilities of real love—which demands a coming out of one-self and a self-giving, the capacity to receive love as well as to give it. Real love flourishes from having well-ordered relationships in our lives, primarily our relationship to God and then our various relationships with others in their appropriate ways.
Innocence of life is the gateway to love.