Do you know how many times people comment on my web address or my email address? You don’t need that extra “A” Donna, it is just confusing. I usually respond that the second A is meaningful and that I can share the story of the “A”. Given that today is the Feast Day of St. Agnes, I thought today might be a perfect day to share the story of the “A”.
As you are probably starting to guess, my middle name is Agnes. I did not think about about the name too much until sixth grade when my home room teacher wanted us to fill out cards with our full names, including the middle name. She proceeded to read the “funny” middle names to the class. There were only two. Yes, Donna Agnes was one of the funny middle names. The other name, quite frankly, was not very funny. It is just that it belonged to the big football star for the class, and she wanted to tease him. The fact of the matter was, nobody would pick on him. But, Donna, well that was another story, I was very “pick-on-able” I learned.
Through high school and college I was known more as Agnes than anything, and I hated that. Not that the name was bad, it was just that it was used to mock, tease or insult me, so I had no use for it. In fact, I insisted that the people only use my initial “A”, if they had to reference my middle name. For the most part I simply went by Donna Heckler. A few years after graduate school, my grandmother, Agnes Heckler after whom I am named, passed away. At the cemetery, my father showed me a long line of Agnes’ in the family. With my grandmother now gone, I was the only one remaining with the name Agnes. I had been thinking of permanently changing my middle name and he offered that if I changed it we would no longer have any Agnes’ remaining. I made the choice to keep the name. Though, that did not mean I had to use it, I thought.
Fast forward about 30 years and I was having lunch with a friend when the name popped back up. I had just finished cancer treatments and was working on the book Living Like A Lady When You Have Cancer. The friend was also a surgical oncologist, with a specialty in breast cancer. I asked her what the first thing was that she did when she walked into surgery. She replied that she says a prayer to St. Agnes, the patron saint of breast cancer. My chin hit the floor, and my eyes bugged out. How could that be?
I raced home to do some research. It turns out St. Agatha is the patron saint of breast cancer, not St. Agnes. That being said, there are many similarities between them as they were both young virgins who were martyred and their stories are often conflated. As I started to study St. Agnes, I started to learn just how beautiful she was, not just physically but importantly, spiritually. She was martyred at the tender age of about 13 around the year 304 for refusing the soldiers. Because of her beauty they all wanted her. While giving into the lustful soldiers could have saved her life, the only thing she wanted was God. She chose God, kept herself pure for God and was killed for that choice. Because of her story, St. Agnes is known as the patron saint of young girls, chastity and rape survivors.
In Greek the word Agnes means “pure, chaste” while in Latin, Agnes suggests “Agnus” which means lamb. That is why she is typically represented with a lamb in her arms. Of course, I love that she is shown holding a lamb as Christ is known as the Lamb of God and all Agnes wanted was to do was to love Christ.
Agnes is also always shown with a halo of light around her head. I think of her as so radiant. Despite the great trials, she stayed true to her choice for God, and His light is reflected through her. Perhaps the key word is choice. She chose God, and she chose to bear the trials so that she could be with Him for eternity. It took awhile before I learned to embrace my middle name. But, I chose to keep it and I chose to start using that middle A in my work and in my writing as a nod to my heritage and my patron saint.
My sister loves a line from the movie Freaky Friday, when Jamie Lee Curtis yells out to her daughter “make good choices”. It seems to me that St. Agnes is a perfect example of making good choices, of daily making that choice for God. I pray that I can make good choices. I pray that you can make good choices as well. As we make good choices, choices for God, let His radiance shine through each of us!