St Agnes of Montelpulciano

(In central Italy), Virgin (entered heaven this day in 1317)

Dear Monte,

Just one year left, and then out into the “real world”, as they call it.  It does seem that your first three years of college have passed by rather quickly.  I can tell that you are already looking beyond the borders of campus and wondering what life will throw at you.  I think I can even detect a hint of worldly ambition lurking behind your embryonic plan of becoming a powerful lawyer.  Nothing’s wrong with the law – we need talented defenders of justice in society.  But I think you would do well to keep the example of today’s saint in mind, lest you start looking for happiness in the wrong places.

Agnes’s vocation made itself known early on.  As soon as she reached the age of reason, in fact, her parents often found her kneeling in the corner of some chamber in their large house (it was a wealthy and influential family) praying the Our Father and the Hail Mary for hours on end.  The parents showed their wisdom by entrusting her education to the nuns of a convent nearby, which Agnes entered as a kind of spiritual apprentice when she was only nine years old.  When she was fifteen she was transferred to a Dominic convent in another city, where she took her vows and was soon made Abbess by direct order of the pope – such was the renown of her holiness and prudence.

For the next fifteen years of her life, she lived solely on bread and water (and the grace she received through assiduous prayer and reception of the sacraments) and slept on the floor with a rock for her pillow.  She was an inspiration not only to her sister nuns, but to the populous at large.  So great was her influence, simply by being holy, that her home town erected a brand new convent simply in order to induce her to come back to them.  This she did, and ran another community of nuns there for another thirteen years.  Her triumph in love and faith was rewarded by God with the gifts of miracles and prophecy, which spread her fame among men and drew them closer to Christ.

She didn’t write any books; she didn’t topple kingdoms or build empires; she didn’t climb the social ladder; but she succeeded in what counts most: happiness.  By faithfully following God’s voice as he made it heard deep in her heart, she fulfilled the mission for which he had created her.

That, my brave young nephew, is what life is all about.  Maybe God’s voice will lead you down a path of worldly success so that you can witness to his love among the great ones of this world.  But then again, maybe not.  The key is to tune in to his voice; nothing else can satisfy the longings of your heart.

Your loving uncle,


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